“Russia uses any opportunity to promote Palestinian unity”

One of the main topics to be discussed with Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashal will be tackling the inter-Palestinian division and Russia’s support for it, said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko.

During a weekly briefing he also spoke about the visits to Moscow of South Ossetia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Murat Dzhioev and Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Store; the Munich Security Conference; Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Central America; and also about the so-called Strategy for Northern Kosovo.

RT presents the full transcript of the briefing.

On the creation of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and a not-for-profit partnership called “The Russian Council on International Affairs”

On February 2, President Medvedev signed Executive Orders establishing a Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a not-for-profit partnership – the Russian Council on International Affairs. These are practical steps to implement a provision of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (approved by President Medvedev on July 12, 2008), namely to engage civil society institutions and the expert community in the foreign policy process. This effort is seen as a major reserve of our foreign policy work – fully in line with the demands of the times and with the practice of our leading international partners, as well as with the development imperatives of Russian society, including the tasks of national modernization. Both entities will presumably be financed by the budget and extra-budgetary sources, including sponsorship money. It is expected that their organizational development will be completed in the next three months.

The Gorchakov Fund will operate under the overall supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a grant-making organization – along the lines of such funds operating within the diplomatic offices of the leading countries in the world, especially Western ones. Its principal objective is facilitating the engagement of Russia's NGOs in international cooperation on a broad spectrum of issues, especially where civil society institutions play a significant role, including generating ideas that are then brought to fruition at the interstate level.

The Council on Foreign Affairs is seen as a nongovernmental center for research and educational programs in the realm of foreign policy and international relations. Its creation is of particular importance given the current turning point in global development, which requires scientific thinking and applied analysis, particularly from the viewpoint of practical diplomacy. Intellectual exchange, discourse on ways of the world’s post-crisis development is becoming an important flow of international life. The success of the International Conference on the Modern State and Global Security, held in Yaroslavl on September 14, 2009, illustrates the timeliness of positing the question in this way. Of course, in accordance with accepted international practice, Ministry officials intend to be vigorously involved in the activities of the Council. We hope that its work program, including research, will take into account the foreign policy priorities of the country.

On Sergey Lavrov's meeting with Murat Dzhioev

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia, Murat Dzhioev, in Moscow on February 1.

They discussed matters pertaining to the further development of bilateral relations, full-blown interstate interaction arrangements, the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries, assistance to South Ossetia in the socioeconomic sphere and cooperation in international affairs.

The sides also exchanged views on the outcome of the recent round of Geneva Discussions on Stability and Security in the Transcaucasian region.

On the visit to Moscow by Jonas Gahr Store

At the Foreign Minister’s invitation, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Store paid a working visit to Moscow on February 3. Key aspects of Russian-Norwegian relations were discussed including: political dialogue; streamlining the juridical base; furthering economic and trade interaction; and cooperation in energy, fisheries and environmental fields and in the domain of nuclear and radiation safety.

The ministers noted the dynamic evolution of good, neighborly Russian-Norwegian relations, the reciprocal striving to build on intensive political dialogue and practical cooperation and discussed in detail the course of the preparation of the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Norway, scheduled for the spring of this year.

The ministers expressed interest in the further deepening of interaction in multilateral regional cooperation formats – the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Arctic Council.

Sergey Lavrov and Jonas Gahr Store also discussed themes relating to the reinforcement of European security, and exchanged views on a number of regional problems, including the peace process in the Middle East, and the situation in Afghanistan and around Iran’s nuclear program.

More information about the visit of Jonas Gahr Store is posted on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.

On the visit to Moscow by Khaled Mashal

I was asked to comment on the visit to Moscow by Khaled Mashal. At the beginning of next week, Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashal arrives in Moscow to hold consultations at the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Upcoming meetings will be held in the context of the political dialogue which Russia conducts with influential forces in Palestinian society to help solve the task of resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the well-known and generally recognized international legal basis. Recall that PNA Head Mahmoud Abbas, the universally recognized legitimate leader of all Palestinians, was received in Russia on a working visit recently. His talks with President Dmitry Medvedev confirmed the identity of views and approaches to the tasks in overcoming the crisis in the peace process in the Middle East.

One of the main topics to be discussed with Mashal will be overcoming the inter-Palestinian division. Russia supports the ongoing efforts to this end, in particular by the leadership of Egypt, and in this connection uses any opportunity to promote Palestinian unity.

I want to reiterate our conviction that such unity on the basis of commitment to the principles of political settlement, the Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Arab Peace Initiative is the key to the realization of the Palestinians’ indisputable right to their own independent and viable state, designed to be a factor in ensuring security and peace in the region.

On Sergey Lavrov’s attendance at the Munich Security Conference

On February 5-7, Munich will host the 46th International Security Conference, with the expected participation from Russia of Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma and President of the Russian Gas Society Valery Yazev, and Chairman of the Duma International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev.

The MSC is one of the most representative discussion platforms on topical security policy issues in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic area.

The organizers have announced a wide spectrum of topics for discussion at the present Forum, in particular – “Energy security and a change in the global balance of power”; “The future of European and global security”; and “The future of arms control and the NPT. Is Global Zero possible?”

The speech by Lavrov, “Issues of European and global security in the context of the initiative of President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev to conclude a European Security Treaty,” will set out in detail Russia’s approaches to questions of renewal of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture based on the principles of indivisible and equal security, the primacy of international law in the emerging multipolar reality of the XXI century, and further expansion of broad international cooperation on the basis of equality and respect for each other's interests.

On Sergey Lavrov's visit to Cuba

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov will pay an official visit to Cuba on February 11-13, 2010. He will also head up a representative cross-sector delegation at the opening ceremony of the XIX Havana International Book Fair, where Russia will participate as a country guest of honor.

Scheduled are his meetings and conversations with representatives of the Cuban leadership and talks with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to exchange views on topical issues of the international, regional and bilateral agenda. The visit is intended to ensure the maintenance of an intensive political interaction and facilitate enhancing bilateral relations in various fields.

Russia views Cuba as a key partner in the Latin American region. Efforts by both sides aim primarily to consolidate the strategic nature of the Russian-Cuban partnership in line with the accords reached during the meetings of the leaders of the two countries in Havana and Moscow in late 2008 and early 2009.

The bilateral political dialogue is regular and confidential, including at the highest levels. A firm foundation for this is the similarity or identity of our countries’ positions on the most key issues of our time, which allows us to closely collaborate in their solution within the UN and other international organizations.

Inter-parliamentary exchanges are actively conducted; ties between heads of various departments are maintained; and the practice of inter-foreign ministry consultations on a broad range of issues has been established. Our country has consistently advocated the normalization of the situation around Cuba and its full reintegration into regional and global processes. Russia annually supports at UN General Assembly sessions a resolution entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,” and adheres to the line on the inadmissibility of the use of unilateral extraterritorial measures in international relations.

Following the talks the ministers plan to sign Joint Statements on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between our countries and on the inadmissibility of a revision of the results of the Second World War, as well as a Plan for Political Consultations between the Foreign Ministries of Russia and Cuba for 2010-2011.

On Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Nicaragua

On February 14, 2010, as part of the Foreign Minister’s tour of Latin American countries, he will pay an official visit to the Republic of Nicaragua, the first in the history of bilateral relations by a head of the Russian foreign affairs agency to that Central American country.

As a result of the implementation of the agreements reached during the talks of President Medvedev with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Moscow on December 18, 2008, substantial advance has been achieved in various areas of Russian-Nicaraguan cooperation.

There is an active high-level political dialogue between our countries. The visits to Nicaragua by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin in 2008 and 2009 were, in fact, crucial for the transfer of bilateral cooperation onto a practical path. The meetings between Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov and Samuel Santos were productive on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly sessions in New York in 2008 and 2009 as well as in Moscow (a working visit on November 1, 2008). The visit to Managua (Nicaragua) by Minister for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters Sergey Shoigu in November last year was very timely.

As a result of these and other contacts, major arrangements have been made to fill Russian-Nicaraguan cooperation with new content, with its subsequent elevation to the level of strategic partnership. The mechanism of the functioning of the Nicaraguan-Russian Intergovernmental Trade, Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation Commission has been launched, which should also give concrete substance to bilateral ties. Agreement has been reached on the resumption of the work of the Russian Trade Representation in the Republic of Nicaragua.

Russian agencies are studying the question of continuing free technical assistance to Nicaragua in the form of supply of motor vehicles and other equipment. Progress is noted in the development of bilateral technological cooperation. The bilateral legal framework is being strengthened.

On Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Guatemala

On February 15, as part of his trip to several countries in the Latin American region Sergey Lavrov will pay an official visit to the Republic of Guatemala, the first by a head of the Russian foreign affairs agency to that Central American republic.

In recent years, Russian-Guatemalan contacts at various levels have been characterized by a growing dynamism and intensiveness.

In July 2007, in conjunction with participation in the meeting in Guatemala City of the 119th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), at which Sochi was chosen as the capital of the XXII Winter Olympic Games in 2014, Vladimir Putin made a working visit to Guatemala. His meeting with then-President Oscar Berger contributed to bringing Russian-Guatemalan relations to a higher level and the development of ties in certain areas.

Also in 2007, our embassy was opened in Guatemala, which had until recently remained one of the few Latin American countries where Russia had no permanent representation at the ambassadorial level.

Inter-foreign ministry political consultations between Deputy Foreign Ministers and between directors of relevant departments are regularly conducted, along with inter-agency contacts.

Political dialogue between our countries is being intensified. The positions of Russia and Guatemala on the main issues and problems of the world agenda in many respects are similar or identical. Both countries advocate the creation of a democratic multipolar world order, respect for the principles of international law, sovereignty and consideration of the legitimate interests of all countries, and a stronger role for the UN as a universal mechanism for preserving peace and strategic stability.

During the conversation of Sergey Lavrov with his Guatemalan counterpart, Haroldo Rodas, it is planned to discuss prospects of enhancing bilateral cooperation in various fields, from trade-and-economic to humanitarian, and to exchange views on a wide range of international and regional issues.

On Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Mexico

The Foreign Minister will pay an official visit to Mexico on February 15-16, 2010. There he is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and to hold talks with his Mexican counterpart, Patricia Espinosa, on a wide range of topical issues in world politics and on questions of development of bilateral ties. The visit, which will be held during the jubilee year of the 120th anniversary of the establishment of Russian-Mexican relations, is designed to further strengthen political dialogue between our two countries and advance mutually beneficial practical cooperation in various fields.

In Russia, Mexico is traditionally considered a friendly country, and a serious and trustful partner in the international arena. Relations with it are one of the main lines of Russia's Latin American policy. Mexican authorities proceed from the acknowledgement of the growing role of Russia in international affairs, and speak in favor of the progressive development of bilateral cooperation and collaborative political dialogue.

Mexico is taking an increasingly prominent part in international affairs; in particular, it is a UN Security Council nonpermanent member for 2009-2010; is active in the financial G20; and acts as the interim chair of the Rio Group from 2008 to February 2010. It has a similar socioeconomic development potential to ours, is a middle income economy and participates in the WTO, OECD, APEC, and many other international and regional entities.

Russian-Mexican relations in the political sphere have been characterized in recent years by stable positive dynamics. Bilateral contacts are regularly maintained at various levels.

Russia and Mexico are united by a desire for the implementation in practice of democratic principles in dealing with pressing international problems, for the strict observance of international law, primarily the UN Charter, and for strengthening the central role of the United Nations and its Security Council as a universal tool for peacekeeping and conflict resolution, in particular with regard to Iraq, the Middle East and Afghanistan. The positions of the sides are also close on the main human rights issues and many aspects of the disarmament process.

Both countries are unanimous in the view that phenomena like international terrorism, separatism and religious extremism pose a serious threat to general security. Moscow and Mexico City are interested in fostering effective collaboration in the interests of countering the new threats and challenges of our time, especially drug trafficking, and transnational organized crime.

Our countries devote considerable attention to the problems of overcoming the global financial and economic crisis, and to this end actively interact in a multilateral format for reforming international financial institutions, and improving the management and transparency of the financial sector. The positions of Russia and Mexico are also close with regard to climate issues; they rest on a common understanding that both developed and developing countries are equally responsible for their solution.

In addition to issues of political interaction, a lot of attention in the upcoming talks will be given to stepping up bilateral trade and economic ties, which recently have clearly stalled in the aftermath of the global economic crisis. The priorities at this stage are: increase and diversify trade, search for progressive new forms of mutually beneficial cooperation, in particular in the energy, oil and gas spheres, and remove the artificial barriers hindering trade. In this context, the importance will also be noted of the practical implementation of the outcomes of the 4th meeting of the Russian-Mexican Joint Commission on Economic, Commercial, Scientific and Technological Cooperation and Maritime Shipping, which took place in December 2009 in Moscow.

Traditional dynamism features our cultural and humanitarian links. Days of Russia in Mexico and Days of Mexico in Russia are held on a regular basis; both countries have accumulated rich experience in the exchange of cultural values, particularly in the organization of art and museum exhibitions, and guest performances of artistic, including folklore, groups. A lot of Russian scientists work in Mexico on a contract basis; joint research projects are being carried out, and Mexican specialists receive training in Russian tertiary education institutions.

A Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Mexico is planned to be signed at the conclusion of the visit.

On the outcome of the meeting of the Working Group on Civil Society

The first meeting of the Russian-American Presidential Commission’s Working Group on Civil Society was held in Washington on January 27 under the co-chairmanship of Vladislav Surkov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, and Michael McFaul, Special Assistant to the President for Russia. Representatives of Russian and US official entities and of various NGOs of the two countries took part.

The agenda included the role of civil society and NGOs in combating three common problems for our countries: corruption, crimes against children, and mutual negative stereotypes. Discussion of these issues was held in a friendly and motivated atmosphere. During the dialogue, the parties reached the following decisions:

- On corruption: create an ad hoc working subgroup and with the help of invited experts and organizations agree a common methodology for assessing the corruption criteria and coordinating the fulfillment of the obligations under international anti-corruption conventions; engage the business community in discussion on this subject;

- Protection of children: a subgroup on the subject should develop proposals for a public-private partnership in the field of child protection and in combating child pornography, which could be realized by direct interaction between the responsible agencies and NGOs;

- Negative stereotypes: create a subgroup of members of the intellectual elite of the two countries to develop a handbook “Stereotypes and myths of the mutual perception of Russia and the United States” to reconcile the perceptions of different periods in bilateral relations and move away from tendentious coverage of historical facts.

The next meeting of the Working Group is to be held in spring this year in one of Russia’s regions. This time two new issues will be discussed: illegal immigration and the condition of prisoners.

On the plans to integrate the north of Kosovo

Our attention was attracted by the so-called Strategy for Northern Kosovo, a plan to integrate into the administrative system of the self-proclaimed “Republic of Kosovo” the Serb-populated areas in the north of the province, the draft of which became publicly known some time ago.

As far as we know, this document was developed by the Office of the EU Special Representative in Kosovo, Pieter Feith, seen by the states supporters of Kosovo's independence as an “international civilian representative.”

It should be recalled that the leading role in the Kosovo process is assigned to the UN Security Council. This is clearly spelled out in Resolution 1244, which remains fully operative. In the province itself, the supervisory functions over the international civil presence are laid upon the head of the United Nations Mission. The Security Council did not confer authority on the EU Special Representative to develop and promote practical solutions for Kosovo. We do not consider legitimate the institution of “international civilian representative,” which is based on the Ahtisaari plan, a document not approved by the Security Council and therefore void.

In addition, judging by the comments of our European partners, the “Strategy for Northern Kosovo” was neither cleared nor approved even within the framework of the European Union.

It is, therefore, a purely private initiative that cannot be a basis for action or a recommendation for the international structures in the province.

At the same time, the overall thrust of the “Strategy” causes serious concern. It seems that the backers of Pristina do not give up hope of circumventing the established international legal procedures to change the prevailing status quo in the province and of imposing on local Serbs by hook or by crook the concept of an independent Kosovo.

We believe that this approach contains a considerable potential for conflict. Likely attempts by authorities of the self-proclaimed state to establish control in northern Kosovo, inspired by this plan, would once again jeopardize the already fragile stability in the region.

We call on all stakeholders to responsibly approach the situation and take necessary action to avoid such a scenario.

On the complications of the situation in Yemen

I was asked to comment on reports about the deteriorating situation in Yemen. The situation in Yemen, in fact, remains tense and requires increased attention from the world community.

After the high-level meeting on Yemen in London on January 27, it is important to achieve effective consolidation of international assistance to the Republic of Yemen in repulsing threats to its security, ensuring internal stability and tackling socioeconomic problems. A Group of Friends of Yemen was created in London to this end. It includes Russia.

We presume that the measures to assist Yemen in various fields will be undertaken in consultation with its government, excluding interference in the internal affairs of that country in any form.

In this regard, Russia – reaffirming its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Yemen – is planning to provide humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons there; develop trade and economic cooperation; and continue to assist in strengthening the armed forces of that country.

On the statement made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Iran’s willingness to send out its stocks of low-enriched uranium to produce fuel for the Tehran research reactor

I was asked to speak about the statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran is willing to send out its stock of low-enriched uranium to produce fuel for the Tehran research reactor.

In addition to the remarks of Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, I can say that a lot of such statements have been heard in Tehran recently. In early January, Iran officially handed over to the IAEA its additional considerations regarding the Agency's scheme to send out its LEU to produce fuel for the Tehran research reactor. The main condition put forward by Tehran was a simultaneous exchange of uranium for fuel within the territory of Iran, which did not coincide with the mission of the Agency. If, however, Iran now intends to follow the IAEA-proposed scheme, as stated by President Ahmadinejad, it would be imperative for Iran to officially notify the Agency, after which we could study in detail the new Iranian proposals. We could not but welcome such a move. We have spoken of the importance of realizing the scheme for the Tehran research reactor on more than one occasion.

On Russian humanitarian assistance to Mongolia

A Russian Railways train of 34 cars with humanitarian aid (food, medicine, warm clothes, mixed fodder, fuel and lubricants) for Aimak residents struck by severe frosts and snow storms arrived in Ulan-Bator on February 2. Russian Railways covered all the costs, about 15 million roubles, of providing the aid to them.

The relief fund has also received money from the staffs of the Russian-Mongolian joint ventures Erdenet, Mongolrostsvetmet and Ulan-Bator Railway.


Q: Did the US Congress discuss abolition of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment this week? Why has this anachronism lived up to our days at all?

A: First, a bit of background. The so called Jackson-Vanik Amendment, incorporated in Title IV of the 1974 Trade Act currently in force, links the granting by the US to individual countries of most-favored-nation treatment or, in American terminology, normal-trade-relations (NTR) with their market status and the freedom of emigration they provide.

In 1994, the US administration officially published opinion on the full compliance of Russia's emigration policy with the provisions of Title IV of the Trade Act. On this basis, Russia was granted temporary NTR status, and there was introduced the practice of suspending the amendment in respect of our country based on annual White House recommendations to Congress that do not require the approval of the latter. In 2002, Russia was officially recognized in US trade legislation as a country with a market economy.

Nevertheless, a separate Congress decision is needed to graduate Russia from the amendment to a permanent and unconditional basis. The previous US administration repeatedly affirmed its intention to resolve this issue, but never took any real steps for fear of strong resistance from those lawmakers who see the amendment as a potential lever of pressure for ensuring certain, especially economic, national interests. Individual Congress members have also periodically come up with legislative initiatives, along with representatives of American business circles and public organizations lobbying for abolition. As we know, so far also to no avail.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no information about US Congress having considered cancellation of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in respect of our country in recent weeks. At the same time, I would like to note that this theme is a regular subject of discussion in our contacts with the American side at the most diverse levels, including inter-parliamentary ties. The question is also included in the agenda of the Working Group on Business Development and Economic Relations of the recently established Russian-American Presidential Commission.

Let's hope that the Administration of Barack Obama will finally move this chronic problem off dead center.

Q: A meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bank governors will be held in Canada tomorrow. Why has this format been selected in which Russia is not involved? How can you comment on this situation?

A: Indeed, the Russian side did not receive an invitation to the meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors which will be held in Canada. The leadership of the Russian Ministry of Finance has already commented on the matter.

The Russian side has repeatedly expressed its opinion, including to the present – Canadian – presidency of the G8, about the lack of Russia’s full-fledged participation in meetings of this kind. We have always held that this is the wrong approach, reflecting the old political stereotypes.

There is another point to keep in mind, though. Against the background of the rise of the G20 as the major international forum for discussion of financial and economic problems, the importance of activities of the narrower composition now changes too. Strategic decisions on the financial and economic architecture of the world can no longer be taken without the participation of leading players, to which the BRIC states belong, including Russia, and major developing countries.

Q: Please comment on the statement made by US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon that the United States has doubts about the effectiveness of the initiatives put forward by Russia in the sphere of European security. The US does not even hide, it turns out, the fact that it is meddling in the European security processes?

A: We have noted and analyzed these remarks. For years, the US has been an integral part of the Euro-Atlantic security processes. It participates in two leading organizations in this field, the OSCE and NATO, and largely determines the evolving situation here and the thrusts of its development. Therefore, by definition, Washington is no less entitled to its own voice in the realm of European security than any European country.

Now as regards the statement of Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon. We have noted them, and we were surprised that the assessments set out by the high-ranking American diplomat were clearly discordant with the tone and content of the Russian-American dialogue on this important issue, which is maintained between the two countries, including at the highest level. From the personal contacts, as well as messages of the presidents of the two countries we have formed the impression that the US administration has responded with interest to the Russian proposals and has shown willingness for further discussion and joint constructive work in this area, including from the viewpoint of the European Security Treaty initiative. The very fact that the initiative has for over a year now been discussed at various international venues, such as Corfu Discussions, where, by the way, the US also participates on a full-scale basis, serves as an indication of the ongoing work here.

Not only do the remarks of Gordon not fit into these realities, they are at variance with the overall emerging understanding between our countries, instilling doubts about the nature of the signals coming from Washington. It turns out that the line of US policy in such fundamental matters as European security is determined, contrary to the assurances of the country's leadership, merely by the logic of political curtseys and is being pursued with a result obviously decided beforehand.

We, of course, will keep such strange assessments in mind, but in our daily work prefer to rely on the clear instructions of the presidents of Russia and the United States to expand the bilateral dialogue and cooperation on all aspects of creating a truly indivisible security space in the Euro-Atlantic area.

Q: How can the Foreign Ministry comment on an article of the Foreign Ministers of Poland and Sweden where they have appealed to the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear weapons stationed on the borders with the EU or on its territory?

A: Raising the issue in this way (that is, presenting it in the context of Russian-EU relations) has caused us some surprise, as it is, in fact, contrary to earlier statements made by representatives of the EU. The EU regularly refused to discuss with the Russian side any questions of deployment of elements of a US missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, referring to the fact that this was a subject of bilateral relations between these countries and the United States.

It is an element of our principled stance when discussing the full range of nuclear disarmament issues that questions pertaining to further nuclear disarmament, including tactical nuclear weapons, should be viewed not in isolation but in close connection with other types of weapons, including conventional forces in Europe and missile defense systems.

In addition, Russia has consistently advocated the deployment of nuclear weapons only in the territory of those states to which they belong. In this context we would welcome the withdrawal of the US tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe to the territory of the United States. And it should be accompanied by complete and irreversible elimination of the entire infrastructure for the deployment of such weapons in Europe.

We would like to receive from the article’s authors necessary clarifications whether their opinion means a shift in the European Union’s position and, consequently, the readiness for closer, more open and thorough dialogue on all aspects of European security, particularly taking into account the initiative of Russian President Medvedev for concluding a European Security Treaty. We are ready for such a task.

Q: The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets has today published an article saying that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was forced to send a note to the Abkhaz leadership expressing “grave concern about numerous instances of alienation from Russian citizens of their property in Abkhazia.” Could you confirm this information? How can you comment on the situation in general?

A: Naturally we have made note of the publication.

I can assure you that no notes on this subject were sent. But we know from our Abkhaz colleagues that individual cases involving problems with property of citizens of Russia do arise. This is known to us and our Abkhaz colleagues alike. We are raising these issues in the course of our communication and try to solve them in a calm and mutually respectful manner. You have to understand that post-conflict settlement is a complicated thing; there are questions that require a certain degree of patience and respect when dealing with them.

Q: The Foreign Ministry has already commented on the incident with the Japanese fishing vessels, but the investigation is continuing in Japan, new facts are emerging. Has the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry on the incident changed as of now?

A: The circumstances of the incident with the Japanese fishing vessels, the No. 58 Takamaru and the No. 63 Kiyomimaru, in the waters of Kunashir Island were sufficiently detailed in the Ministry’s Information and Press Department commentary of February 1. It is displayed on the Ministry website and I think that there is no need to recap on it. The Russian media have taken a note of this theme.

The vessels have violated the provisions of Russian legislation as well as conditions of fishing under the intergovernmental Agreement on some matters of cooperation in the field of fishing operations for marine living resources of February 21, 1998. The fact of violation was fixed by means of objective control and at the present time Russian law enforcement agencies continue investigating the incident. So I would not like to talk about the related technical details, which are now being clarified.

As to the protest of the Japanese side, it was rejected as unfounded and unacceptable. Moreover, this demarche is puzzling because it is in stark contrast with the realities and inflicts harm upon the positive atmosphere of bilateral relations. In this connection, I would like to recall that we expect the Japanese side to take the proactive steps to ensure strict compliance by Japanese fishermen with the terms of the Agreement.

Q: According to the Iranians, the United States is militarizing the Persian Gulf zone. How can you comment upon that?

A: We cannot comment on matters which do not fall within our immediate purview. If the real facts are established, we will then be able to draw conclusions and bring them to your attention.