Lavrov: 6-9 months enough to resolve Iran nuclear issue
RT:We’re joined on RT now by Russia’s Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov from the fringes of the APEC summit here in Bali.
Mr. Lavrov, thank you very much for your time, thank you for
joining us here on RT. I’ll delve straight in, if it’s okay, and
start to talk about Syria. You said on Monday that the Geneva-2
peace talks on Syria could be held as early as the beginning of
November. But I’d just like to talk to you about some quotes
attributed to President Bashar al-Assad over the weekend in Der
Spiegel news magazine in Germany. He is quoted as saying that he
doesn’t necessarily believe a solution can be negotiated with
some elements of the opposition, the extremist elements, saying:
“By my definition, a political opposition isn’t armed.” I was
just wondering – is that a sign that he is going to need more
persuading to come around the table?
Sergey Lavrov: Well, first, I believe the possible dates for the conference were announced by the Secretary-General of the United Nations during the General Assembly opening week. He consulted with us, the Americans, other members of the Permanent Five and he suggested to target mid-November. We would be ready to announce any day because our information is that the government is going to send a delegation and the main thing now is to make sure that the opposition participates and that the opposition is representative — not just one group of people who live outside Syria. We would like the opposition to represent the entire spectrum of the opponents of the regime, including the opposition which is active inside Syria, like the National Coordinating Committee, like the Supreme Council of Kurds. And this would be important for the conference to be really representative as the Security Council Resolution 2118 adopted on the occasion of Syria joining the Chemical Weapons Convention said. Because apart from the chemical disarmament, the resolution spoke about the need to convene the conference and to make sure that the full spectrum of Syrian society is represented. Therefore, the conference would be successful if the opposition manages to bring all those who would like change in Syria, to negotiate with the delegation from the government.
As to the interviews which President Assad has been giving very
generously in the past weeks, I do believe that a situation which
we have to handle in Syria is assessed more and more in the same
manner by us, by the Americans, by the Europeans, by the
countries of the region.
The situation is really deteriorating. The armed groups of the
opposition are becoming split more and more. Recently there was
news that some 13 field commanders said that they would not be
taking orders from the Free Syrian Army and from the National
Coalition, which is the political wing of the Free Syrian Army,
as far as I understand. And they would create what they called a
movement to introduce the Sharia law in Syria, and not only in
Syria but in the adjacent areas. And then 40 more groups said
they would be creating an Islamic Front. These people are moving
closer to Al-Qaeda than to the Free Syrian Army, which is being
portrayed as the secular armed opposition. So, the trend is in
favor of the jihadists, radicals, among those who fight on the
And it is not only our conviction — it is the conviction of the
Americans — that we cannot and must not talk to these people. We
can only talk to those who opt for the sovereign, territorially
integral, secular, multiethnic and multi-confessional Syria. And
therefore — I come back to the beginning of my answer — it is of
crucial importance to have the right mix of opposition groups
represented at the conference. But, as the G8 leaders said in
Lough Erne at the summit in June, we call all of them, all eight
of them plus the European Union. They called upon the government
and the opposition to join forces to fight the terrorists and
extremists in Syria. I think it is a very important message which
must not be overlooked.
RT:Last week, Russian media quoted anonymous diplomatic sources as saying that chemical attacks on the suburbs of Damascus on August 21 were carried out by a Saudi Arabia-backed group. These were anonymous quotes. I was wondering, does Moscow have evidence to back this up?
SL: I read those reports. We have been looking into the problem of chemical weapons use in Syria for many months now, starting from March probably, when on March 19 there was an incident reported in the vicinity of Aleppo and the Syrian government asked the United Nations to investigate this specific incident. The United Nations, under the pressure of our European friends, refused to send the team just to investigate this incident; they demanded as a precondition access anywhere, everywhere to anyone in Syria and this demand looked very much like the regime under which Saddam Hussein was put when the United Nations was looking for the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And the Syrians said: “Look, we would be ready to negotiate further sites to be visited, but this one is urgent, people died and it happened only a few days ago, why don’t you send your experts?” No way.
Then the Syrians asked us and we did send our experts who took
these samples in full accordance with the Organization for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons rules; we ensured the
uninterrupted custody of the samples as they were delivered to an
OPCW-certified laboratory and they were analyzed in Moscow and
the results are available to the Security Council. We made them
available, I think, in late June or in July and we are convinced
beyond any reasonable doubt that this was the incident, the
provocation staged by the opposition. The gas, which was a type
of sarin, was homemade, the rocket was homemade, and some other
facts established during this analysis point in the same
And we also have good reasons to believe that the August 21
incident was staged by the same group of people; the gas which
was discovered and analyzed by the UN experts is very much of the
same substance as the one used on March 19 except that the one
which was used in August is much more concentrated, and some
other facts which you can get from the inspectors’ report and
from other sources readily available on the Internet and
elsewhere, convince us that it was a provocation staged by the
We do know that there’s so much evidence shown on the Internet and elsewhere indicating that some foreign countries or some representatives of foreign countries had something to do with it. We cannot say for certain and we don’t want to accuse anyone unnecessarily and undeservedly, but since this evidence has been [circulating] quite widely, when the Security Council agreed on Resolution 2118 on chemical weapons in Syria, it included by consensus a special clause which says that we are categorically against any attempts to give chemical weapons or their components to non-state actors, that this is prohibited, and then the Security Council also by consensus called upon all member states, in particular on the neighbors of Syria, not to allow the use of their territory for the purposes of producing or delivering the chemical weapons or their components to the Syrian opposition. It’s a very important message and I do believe that this reflects that the seriousness with which members of the Security Council, all of them, take those reports which we are discussing.
RT:Going back to the idea of it being a provocation,
it’s your firm belief that that is the case. Why do you think
you’ve struggled to convince the international community that
that is the case?
SL: I think quite a number of people have been biased from the very beginning. They have been obsessed with the projection of this situation as another manifestation of the Arab Spring, as the fight for democracy, for a better life, against the tyrants, against the dictators and so on and so forth. And as the actual situation on the ground, as the real life was producing more and more facts that this is, to a large extent and more and more so, about radicals trying to get hold of this huge region, the people who already committed themselves to a different interpretation, they had difficulty admitting that they were wrong. But the truth and this understanding of the danger these radicals present to Syria and the North African region in general, it’s being understood more and more. And this was very obvious when we met with John Kerry and we basically said so at the press conference in New York and at the press conference here in Indonesia a couple of days ago.
RT:The process has begun, OPCW have begun the process of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. You believe there’ve been a number of provocations already. Do you think there could be more? Is there a fear that the radical extremists could try and undermine this entire process?
SL: I do believe that this is a very possible scenario and we would like to avoid it at any cost. Actually, the incident on August 21 happened when the UN inspectors eventually arrived in Syria and started doing their job. They were first subject to some sniper fire, and the culprits have not been found. And then there was this provocation under their noses. Just mere logic says that the government had no interest, had no advantage in doing this. That’s why, again, I come back to Resolution 2118. Given that sad experience, we agreed by consensus to write into this resolution that it is not only the government which must fully cooperate with the OPCW and the United Nations to finalize the program of disarmament. It’s also all other Syrian groups, the opposition, all of them, who would be responsible if something happens to the inspectors because of their provocations and who would also be responsible if they use again chemical weapons. Whoever uses chemical weapons would come to the Security Council to respond.
RT:Let’s move away from Syria but stay in the region,
because America conducted a couple of commando raids in Africa
over the course of the weekend in Libya and Somalia as part of
their War on Terror. Do you believe that such actions are making
the region safer?
SL: I think that whatever you do, you must be covered by international law. The international law regarding counterterrorism is not yet complete. There are some 13 sectoral conventions on terrorist attacks on the high seas, nuclear terrorism and so on, and so forth. There is a draft of the comprehensive global convention on counterterrorism, which has being negotiated for more than 10 years, I think, because of basically one problem: some people believe that some of those who use terror as the means to achieve their political goals can't be called terrorists because they are freedom fighters. This is a contradiction, which is rooted deeply in recent history. Several decades ago, “freedom fighters” was a term coined to describe the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and in some other countries. And then these freedom fighters turned into an organization which we now call Al-Qaeda, which boomeranged on 9/11. So my point is: first, you cannot have good terrorists and bad terrorists.
Second, you cannot strengthen the law by violating the law. If
you say that your national law allows you to do something, it is
fine as long as you do this inside your own territory. As long as
you go international, you really have to be sure that there is an
international law which you respect and which you follow. There
is a lacuna in international law in quite a number of things,
including situations when a known terrorist is fleeing all over
the world and people hunt him. But again, the international law
provides — at least the existing international law — in such
cases provides for operatives of a country who is hunting to get
in touch with law enforcement agencies of the country on whose
territory the guy is, and then to agree and implement certain
procedures. We would be very much in favor of making sure that we
all fight terrorism in accordance with our national law, if it is
our territory, and in accordance with international law, which, I
admit, must be further developed.
RT:The alleged targets in these raids over the weekend were the mastermind behind the 1998 US embassy attacks in Africa and allegedly the man, or one of the men, behind the attack in the Westgate shopping center in Kenya, they were the individuals apparently being targeted. Is the US action here, of targeting these individuals, is this an example of what President Vladimir Putin has recently described as American exceptionalism?
SL: Well, I would not say that this is exactly an example of American exceptionalism, though the Americans do not deny that they want to be exceptional, they say they are exceptional. It doesn’t always help in a dialogue with people. You know, we, I wouldn’t go into the description of whether this is manifestation of exceptionalism or arrogance of power, whatever. We discussed with the United States similar cases when a couple of Russian citizens, one named Bout and another, Yaroshenko, were basically kidnapped, one from Thailand and another one from Liberia. First, they were approached by FBI agents posing as members of some drug cartel, and they were basically provoked into discussing an offer which they did not solicit. But the agents were persuading them to agree, to provide their services, airplanes, something else. And then they were arrested and brought to the United States in violation of the law of Thailand and in violation of the law of Liberia. They were given sentences, 20 and 25 years respectively, just for criminal intent, not for actual deeds. And this criminal intent, by the opinion of many lawyers, was not sufficiently proved in a US court of law. And we believe that this is not the way you handle international relations, it’s not the way you fight criminals, even before you prove that they are criminals, before they can testify to any court of law.
RT:Can we move on and talk about Iran? Following the UN General Assembly in New York, there seems to be cautious optimism about Tehran’s new approach, perhaps not from the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that he fears that the United States is in the process or on the path to being duped by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. I just wondered what you made of Netanyahu’s assessment of that situation.
SL: Certainly, we welcomed the mood which was prevailing on Iran during the General Assembly general debate – the statement of President Rouhani, the meetings with Minister Zarif who attended the meeting of the 3+3 group on the Iranian nuclear issue. Both President Rouhani and Minister Zarif said that they would like to resolve this issue and resolve it fast. They were saying 6-9 months would be enough if everyone cooperates. I agree. The main thing is for Iran is to cooperate because Iran knows the questions which have been raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency supported by the Security Council. These questions have to be clarified fully, and we are gratified that Iran scheduled a meeting with IAEA experts exactly on this subject. They have to answer, I think, a half-dozen or so questions, which have been with us for many years. Then Iran also agreed to have another round of negotiations, to resume the negotiations with the 3+3 group, which would also take place later this month. And Iran has a legitimate right to know the endgame, as they said. And the endgame, as far as we are concerned, as President Putin repeatedly stated, should be recognition of the Iranian right to the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including the right to enrich uranium for fuel purposes only, provided Iran closes all the issues with the IAEA and puts its entire nuclear program under full and strict control of the agency. It's a very elaborate and exhaustive statement, and I think if other members of the 3+3 group reiterate this position, then it would be easy for us and Iranians to set a road map, a step-by-step approach when Iran takes a step expected from it by the international community and the international community relieves sanctions to some extent. And then, as we progress on this action-for-action basis, we must arrive to a point where everyone would be satisfied that Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful. And then Iran should be out of any sanctions, both the sanctions imposed by the Security Council but also unilateral sanctions. As for the statements regarding the Iranians playing another game and trying to dupe people, I haven't seen any confirmation by any intelligence – be it Russian, be it European, be it the United States, be it Mossad, which would categorically say that the Iranian leadership has taken a political decision to have a military nuclear program. No intelligence agency on earth was able so far to make this conclusion. And we spoke to our American colleagues just recently. They agreed that Iran hasn't taken a political decision to go military in its nuclear program, and therefore we all must avoid statements, which would just antagonize the parties to these negotiations and concentrate on a chance which we certainly have now.
RT:What about Israel’s suspicions, let’s say, of
Tehran? Is there a concern that Israel’s position could influence
Washington and perhaps jeopardize the resumption of the nuclear
SL: No, I don’t think so. I think the Israeli position is motivated by, you know, conviction that the Iranian nuclear bomb would be absolutely, existentially unacceptable for Israel, but it is unacceptable for anyone. We are categorically against any new military nuclear powers to appear on this earth, be it Iran, be it North Korea, be it anyone. But to make sure that this is not the case, we have to resolve this type of situations by negotiations and not by threats and not by military strikes. Because as you put all your emphasis on resolving this by force, there would be more and more countries who would say: you see, Iran didn’t have a bomb and yet it was bombed. So let’s think how we can take care of our own security. And then the risks to proliferation of nuclear technologies and chemical weapons and biological weapons will be multiplied. So any threats of use of force to resolve issues like this are absolutely counterproductive from the point of view of our common goal to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.
RT:Let’s change tack and talk about the Greenpeace activists who’ve been arrested by Russian authorities. Moscow’s saying its actions are in full compliance with international law, yet the Dutch government is launching a legal campaign to try and get the people being held freed. I was just wondering what the very latest on that situation was, if you can bring us up to date with the very latest.
SL: The very latest from the Netherlands unfortunately is not about Greenpeace but about unacceptable treatment of a Russian diplomat whose apartment was forcefully opened and who was apprehended by police for several hours in gross violation of any diplomatic conventions, Vienna Conventions and the rest, without any explanations. Well, the explanation was given that somebody told the police that he and his wife were maltreating the kids, two and four-year-old kids, which is absolutely unacceptable apart from any diplomatic privileges. The police have no right to enter an apartment of a diplomat. And we expect our Dutch friends to issue an explanation, to issue an apology, and to punish those who violated the Vienna Convention. This happened in The Hague, the seat of the international Court of Justice, and this is absolutely absurd. On the Greenpeace issue, we have been hearing about the activities of this vessel, Arctic Sunrise, for many years. They have been engaging in provocations all over the world. In all cases they were punished, one way or another; they were paying large fines in some countries – and we have been warning our Dutch colleagues in advance that they should really take a close look at what this vessel under the Dutch flag is going to do in the Arctic waters dangerously close to the platform which was working in the Pechora Sea. Well, the legal procedures are under way, the Dutch initiated an arbitrage procedure, so let's rely on the legal procedures.
RT:Going back to the situation with the Russian diplomat in the Netherlands. Has Russia considered a response to this?
SL: We must today, not later, get an explanation from the Dutch government, an apology – it’s absolutely unavoidable. And then we need to know what disciplinary measures would be taken in regard to these police officers. And then, when we get a reaction on this demand, then we will see how we will handle the relations further.
RT:The final subject I want to talk to you about is
Afghanistan, because drug trafficking from Afghanistan is an
increasing problem for Russia. I was just wondering what Moscow
has planned for when NATO take troops withdraw, with that NATO
withdrawal imminent, what Moscow’s plans are to try and counter
SL: Well, this has been discussed for a couple of years already in the expectation of this withdrawal of ISAF, but this was discussed not just inside Moscow but with our allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and also in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which uniquely comprises, either as members or as observers, Afghanistan and all its neighbors. And there is a special program in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on fighting drug trafficking from Afghanistan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization is also engaged very closely. It conducts regularly the operation called Canal to intercept drug caravans on the outer perimeter of Afghan borders. Certainly, it would be much more efficient not to fight symptoms but to fight the root cause, which involves destroying drug production inside Afghanistan, drug laboratories, heroin laboratories especially. And we have been proposing as the Collective Security Treaty Organization to NATO as the backbone of ISAF to establish cooperative arrangement in real time: NATO reports to us what kind of caravans are moving so that on the outer perimeter of Afghan borders it would be easier to intercept them. NATO consistently for the last eight years, I think, is avoiding entering into this type of relationship. My hunch is they are doing this for ideological purposes, not being willing to see the Collective Security Treaty Organization as an equal in this partnership, which is a pity, because for wrongly understood prestige we are losing the efficiency in the fight against drug industry.
RT:Are you hopeful for the future of Afghanistan? I mean, there’s the presidential election next year, the NATO troop withdrawal – I mean, do you feel that the security situation is set to improve in Afghanistan?
SL: There are so many unknowns. ISAF withdrawal is explained by the fact that by that time, by the end of next year, the Afghan security forces, the Afghan army would be in a position to take control of law and order in the country. So far, the trend is the opposite. And the closer the date of withdrawal is, the more evidence we have that Afghan security forces are not going to be ready. There are serious problems in the security sector, there are problems with the Taliban who do not want to get into the national dialogue with the government, who only want to talk to the Americans, which is unacceptable to the government for obvious reasons. And as this procrastinates, as the game is being played with the Taliban bypassing the Afghan government, we are getting closer to the situation when the Taliban would not be even interested in discussing a government of national unity; they would be only interested in taking power 100 percent, which would be an invitation for another war in Afghanistan. So we certainly hope that all Afghan groups, political, ethnic, religious – Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara – can get together, including the reasonable leaders of the Taliban, and start discussing the future of their country. It's high time to do this. And presidential elections, of course, are a landmark which should be taken into account. It's up to the Afghans to decide exactly when they want to have this campaign. But unless we have an inclusive process, I'm not very optimistic about any political solution to the situation in Afghanistan. And of course, a related matter is the fact that while withdrawing from Afghanistan the contingents of ISAF, the Americans and some other NATO countries are planning a residual presence. The information is that some nine quite fortified military bases are being constructed inside Afghanistan. We are asking questions about what is the purpose for this remaining presence, and we are told that this is for training purposes and just for some sting operations in case of necessity. It's still not very transparent. And we discuss this with our American colleagues regularly, we have a special channel to discuss Afghan matters, and we want to get full clarity about the purpose of this presence, because in combination with the attempts which they undertake every now and then with one or another Central Asian country to negotiate presence there, it raises a question as to what is the reason for this, because the ISAF is being withdrawn under the explanation that the mission has been accomplished. First, I don't think anyone believes that the mission has been accomplished. Second, if it has been accomplished, then why do you want residual presence? And if this presence is projected outside Afghanistan, then certainly we would like to know what it’s about. Is it Central Asia? Is it Iran? Members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and of the Collective Security Treaty Organization would like to know everything, you know, without any exception, because this is a region next door to us. Russia, China, Central Asian countries, Iran... We certainly believe that cooperation with international community to resolve the problems of this region is very important, and we are open for this. But the international community – in this case, our Western colleagues – must be transparent on what they are planning to do in this region. They come there, and we would like to know with what plans.