“Sanctions on Iran aim only to strengthen non-proliferation regime” – Deputy FM
RT: How close do you think Iran is to completing its nuclear enrichment program?
Sergey Ryabkov: I don’t have a time schedule to offer to you. I believe what we’ve seen in recent years is the constant progress in Iran in terms of developing technologies for enrichment, in terms of developing some other technologies of a very sensitive character that relate to the nuclear industry as such. But it doesn’t mean that Iran is deprived of any rights to do so. Contrary to that, as a fully-fledged member of the NPT, this country is indeed entitled to these activities. Yet another perspective for this situation is that with this development, with the development of the Iranian nuclear program, the international community is increasingly facing reasons to be concerned. And these concerns have been outlined in a number of the UN Security Council resolutions, as well as resolutions from the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. And we believe that full implementation of these resolutions would reestablish confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. And that’s our goal in all these efforts.
RT: Mr. Medvedev has already mentioned smart sanctions as the last resort if diplomacy fails. Does that mean that they are targeting the Revolutionary Guard, not the general population?
SR: I wouldn’t even put it this way, as you did. The process of finding out where the limits are for eventual new sanctions, and what the boundaries are for participants in this process, in particular for the permanent members of the Security Council (P5) in New York, these nuclear weapon states, permanent members of the Security Council, has just begun. We are not in a position to tell now what decisions the Security Council will take on the matter. To talk specifically on the revolutionary corps I believe is extremely premature right now. And this is something that would be decided behind closed doors by diplomats involved in these consultations and discussions. For us one issue is of paramount importance. We want to continuously stress the necessity to ensure that whatever sanctions we decide upon some time in the future would be configured in a way to only strengthen the overall universal non-proliferation regime in the nuclear area. That’s our beacon, this is our benchmark, and we will do whatever we can in order to achieve this goal.
RT: In that regard what role are you playing to stop countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are now looking to build nuclear programs?
SR: Indeed, it’s a question that’s being posed by many, especially, among the media and think-tanks. I do believe that we are talking about some responsible members of the international community, some very important players with regard to the future of the NPT regime. I do not believe that the countries that I’ve mentioned would take steps that may only add momentum to the overall deterioration of the situation in the region. On the contrary, I think they would work for a stabilizing effect and in this respect I would stress one particular element of this agenda, which is the need to progress on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery in the Middle East as stipulated by the well-known resolution of the NPT Review Conference, which took place in 1995. Russia is moving towards the implementation of this resolution, and in an operative manner has developed a set of ideas and initiatives to offer our partners and friends including friends in the region to consider in order to free the issue from deadlock. And this will be one of the topical items at the upcoming review conference.
RT: Have you set a target for Israel to be included in a nuclear-free Middle East?
SR: Every country in this region must make responsible and difficult decisions, including becoming parties to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), including a decision to allow all their nuclear facilities to be put under the comprehensive safeguards of the IAEA – the International Atomic Energy Agency. And this definitely relates to the position held by Israel and the Israeli government. They should consider these steps, if we all really want to ensure that the global non-proliferation regime and the NPT is still viable, valid and constitutes the backbone, the cornerstone of the international security system.
RT: Will the review summit next month offer some optimism? What is your worst and best case scenario?
SR: We always hope for the best, and that is a set of reasonable, balanced and real recommendations in all three pillars of this treaty, which are nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of atomic energy. In the absence of this result there wouldn’t be an apocalypse, I’m sure, but nevertheless it will be a huge blow to the global system of ensuring stability and security. So, we work towards a positive outcome and result with all the important players including the P5, the non-alignment movement, and particular countries in this region. It was very positive that the Iranian government decided to convene this conference, which was a good opportunity to exchange views and focus specifically on these things.
RT: You heard the Iranian government today call for the extermination of Israel. Do you have to ignore some Iranian statements, or do you take them seriously?
SR: Well, I didn’t see these statements in particular that you’re referring to, but these are well-known tunes and melodies on the part of the Iranian government. We have officially, and on many occasions before, said as the governmental body, as a foreign ministry, that we totally dissociate ourselves from this type of approach. We believe it’s extremely counterproductive and provocative. But I am referring to what was said before. Again I haven’t seen the specific statements that you are referring to right now.
RT: With the US obviously you are the biggest nuclear powers. What are your next hopes and targets for defence reduction, with Mr. Lavrov’s concern that America is not meeting your concessions and your movements towards Washington?
SR: Several things on this. Number one, we are completely satisfied with the contents of the newly signed treaty on further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. One of the important achievements for Russia in this respect was the inclusion in the treaty of a clear cut acknowledgement of the link between strategic offensive and defensive armaments. By defensive arms I mean missile defence. We have to distinguish between this link and our ability to limit capabilities in the field of strategic missile defence. We have never ever believed that it would be possible through this treaty, the scope of which covers exclusively strategic offensive arms to be able to limit capabilities of another party in the area of strategic defence. Another thing is: What’s next? And you may know from many statements on the Russian side – I can point to several statements by my minister, Sergey Lavrov, and also to a statement by Dmitry Medvedev from last year when he visited Helsinki, where we outlined a number of criteria for conditions that should be taken into consideration and applied if we are really serious about talking of the next steps in the area of nuclear disarmament. We should deal with things like tremendous imbalance and disparities in the area of offensive arms. We should ensure that there would be no placement of weapons in outer space. We should deal in a very deliberate manner towards settlement of several regional conflicts that destabilise the world situation. We should look how to ensure that there would be no re-arming of intercontinental ballistic missiles and ballistic missiles launched from submarines with conventional warheads because that would be equally destabilizing in the current situation. And, of course, we should also ensure that there would be no unaddressed development of capabilities in the area of missile defense. I do hope and believe our American partners appreciate the difficulties of these tasks and they understand that without a satisfactory resolution there would be no chance that we would progress further in terms of nuclear disarmament. We cannot build our national security on empty promises. We need legal instruments across the board and we need parity and strategic stability, which can only be ensured through these means. And maybe the American administration understands this, I, at least, interpret it this way, I’m interpreting the words of president Obama, who, while talking in favor of a world free from nuclear weapons, adds to this “perhaps not in my lifetime”.
RT: What conclusion? Do you see it in your life time? What conclusion do you make from that?
SR: It depends on the others. Whether the other nuclear weapon states would be prepared to come on board and participate in further reductions. Whether countries possessing nuclear weapons but not formally recognized as such – in terms of NPT we have three countries like this which is Israel, Pakistan and India – will take a serious and responsible decision to come on board as well. Without it it’s simply not possible. So it depends on whether politicians, military people, all sorts of spin doctors who prepare for decisions in those countries opt for some dramatic changes in their thinking in their lifetime or not. It depends not on us. We have gone so long and so far that it’s simply ridiculous to pinpoint Russia once again as the country that needs to do more in the sphere of nuclear disarmament.
RT: So, to summarize, Russia is prepared to do everything to get rid of nuclear arsenals within our lifetime…
SR: With others. Without any moves that would undermine our security and the security of others, as a gradual step-by-step process in condition of ensuring undiminished security for all.
RT: So, if others act in parallel, Russia is prepared… in our lifetime.
SR: Yes, if they are prepared to do so and if we are serious about dealing with the things I mentioned.
RT: Mr. Ryabkov, what about Kyrgyzstan’s new government? Do you see it as a full partner already, or are there some issues you are just waiting for them to sort out?
SR: No, we are working with them. Frankly, this is not exactly the area which I’m specialized in, but I definitely believe that we would be able to establish very good and sound contacts with the government of Kyrgyzstan. After some tumultuous period I think they really need a period of a more stable development. We would be prepared to assist them in this.
RT: A thing that is, finally, in your remit. Many would like to see the P5 expanded as I’m sure you know. What are your latest thoughts on that?
SR: Expanded in terms of other countries being formally recognized as nuclear powers? Well, we are constantly hearing appeals and declarations on the part of many, at least in the Middle East, to consider expansion of the group of countries that are formally recognized as nuclear weapon states. I do think though that there are several other ways forward to strengthen the NPT regime without changing some basics in this treaty. This treaty served us so well in so many years. It was indefinitely extended in the year 1995. We shouldn’t re-open it for whatever purpose; otherwise it will be a Pandora’s Box situation.
RT: So, to summarize, you think it may be a little bit premature to talk about that?
SR: Let’s see how this would unfold at the review conference. I don’t think there are realistic chances for progress in the time spent in which I operate on this issue.
RT: Just a word, if this is in your interest, about North Korea. It’s keeping very quiet, taking a very different line from Iran. Does this mean we should treat it differently?
SR: The North Korean issue has been dealt with extensively through the Security Council resolutions and the Six Party talks process. We do believe that North Korea acted differently from Iran. North Korea withdrew from NPT, undertook nuclear test explosions. Here in the case of Iran we have a full-fledged member state, party to NPT, cooperating with the IAEA, ensuring the agency’s access to Iranian facilities. We do not have any evidence whatsoever that underpins accusations and allegations that there is a real military dimension for the Iranian nuclear problem. I think it’s a sea of difference here.
RT: American flights over Afghanistan. Russia is prepared to help America with Afghanistan as long as they need it, or are there some caveats?
SR: We have excellent cooperation with Americans on transit flights. I don’t have the exact figures with me, but since the agreement that was signed ahead of president Obama’s visit to Moscow last July was put into temporary implementation. We’ve had, I think, over two hundred flights with no rejections and it’s working smoothly. We have not received any request on the American party to change anything in this regard, nor to add anything. I think they are in the process of getting acquainted and getting more used to this north route, the so-called north air route. We’ll see what will come next. We are working together on Afghanistan because we believe there are several interfaces at least, of interest, between us and the US We want the US and NATO to do more to address the growing threat of drug trafficking from Afghanistan, and also here we’ve had some progress, although maybe less than we expected or wanted, but still more progress with Americans, not least through the work of a particular working group established under the presidential commission, which is being headed by Mr. Kerlikovsky, the head of the American anti-drug agency and Mr. Viktor Ivanov, who heads the federal counter-narcotic service on our part.
RT: You just mentioned the northern route and I remembered the northern coast is rapidly becoming an issue as well as the Arctic. Is Russia planning to move further with Arctic exploration and claiming its rights as part of the continental shelf?
SR: We do have good experience both in terms of our own scientific and technological work in the Arctic. Also in terms of collecting some materials for the legal activities to support our application to the body of the law on seas, on how to look into the border-drawing lines in the Arctic and so on and so forth, on continental shelf issues. But, on the other hand, we have in recent years developed a very sound and good dialogue – bilateral and multilateral – with all Arctic states, which was most recently outlined at the ministerial conference in Canada in the small town of Chelsea, in the vicinity of Ottawa, just a day before the most recent G8 minister Lavrov met there with his counterpart from Canada, the US and other Arctic states. So it’s another P5, an Arctic P5. We wanted to continue these discussions with our Canadian friends in the course of the visit of Foreign Minister Cannon to Moscow. Unfortunately, this visit due for Monday was cancelled because of inability of the Canadians to fly to Russia because of the volcanic ash cloud.
RT: But any negotiations are on the basis of it being part of Russia’s “continental shelf”. Or is there official room?
SR: There are no negotiations because there is no need for it. It’s a different procedure; it should go through the UN system as a legal application.
RT: And just a word about the North Caucasus…
SR: The last one. We have covered this extremely broad agenda.
RT: Just the North Caucasus. As soon as the Metro bombings happened there was talk of links to Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Are you more or less sure that it was planned from abroad since the time it happened?
SR: I didn’t have any chance to look into the conclusions of our investigators. We do have though very clear evidence of interlinks between our violent extremists and suicide bombers and those who support them with some extremist forces from abroad. I don’t have any particular information since I am not an expert here. I am just telling you what the case was before. I presume it continues, as a problem and a danger for us.