Russian FM: Obama wants to rethink view of global situation

As the official part of President Obama’s ended, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed optimism to Vesti TV about the US initiative to reset relations with Russia.

Question: Mr. Lavrov, thank you for finding the time to talk to us over these two days, which is probably not the easiest time for Russia’s foreign minister. I’d like to start with the word “reset,” which we’ve been hearing very often lately. You were the first person to hear it when Hillary Clinton presented you with a famous “reset” button. Are you satisfied with how this “reset” is proceeding?

LAVROV: The word “reset” is an American one. This is how the US administration chose to describe its policy toward Moscow, or rather the new policy it wants to build. In my opinion, the main proof that this term has some substance to it are the words President Obama said here in Moscow. He did mention it before in a general way, but now he was very specific in saying that his administration wants to reconsider their view of the global situation, it thinks over the threats it needs to react to – and the main threats are terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Obama’s main idea is that the United States will not be able to counter these threats on its own, it takes a coalition of countries to do this, and Russia is indispensable here. I think this is the essence of his analysis of the global situation and the role which Russian-American relations can play in the world today. President Obama made a very clear statement that his approach to foreign affairs will differ from that of the previous administration. The main difference is that this administration will not try to dictate its approach in the global arena. Instead, he will act through international cooperation. I’ll say it again that Russia has an indispensable role reserved in this cooperation. We are ready for this. In fact, we’ve been ready all these years but we faced a lack of understanding in Washington. Obama’s words are certainly true, and we fully share this view. We hope that these words will be translated into the language of real action. Once again Russia is ready for this type of interaction.

Q.: Moving from words to actions, it’s clear that strategic offensive weapons are one of the key issues on the agenda. We know that a document which the two presidents have recently signed was only approved at the last moment. What made it difficult?

LAVROV: It was difficult because the document had to be prepared in an unprecedented short timeframe. The presidents made the order to do this at their first meeting in London in April. And although we didn’t prepare a full-scale agreement, this would hardly have been real; the common understanding which was reflected in the document signed by the presidents has defined in advance a lot for any future agreements. It also facilitates further talks on these possible parameters. The main one of these is quantity. We haven’t come to terms on limits for carriers and nuclear warheads, but the presidents have defined the range where we should look for agreements. First, it’s the range for carrier vehicles from 500 to 1,100. The range for nuclear warheads is from 1,500 to 1,675.

Q.: Does the fact that there’s such a wide range for carriers mean that there’s yet a lot of differences to overcome?

LAVROV: It’s not about differences. We’ll have to seek balance and set priorities. Carriers are, indeed, the top priority. Of course, having the nuclear warheads but not having any carriers makes the potential for many unwanted activities much lower. We suggest a maximum possible limitation of nuclear carriers. I expect that at the negotiations we will be able to reach the limits defined by the presidents, and these limits mean that we want to see a sharp reduction in both the warheads and the carriers. We will push for making these limits as low as possible for carriers and we will try to agree on the number of nuclear warheads used with the carriers.

Apart from numbers, the document signed by the two leaders already contains the cornerstone principles for future agreements. First of all, it’s the need to understand the link between strategic offensive and strategic defensive weapons. Those who doubt the possibility of defining this type of link are wrong in their forecasts. Secondly, it has been confirmed that the current and the future agreements have to contain items on the non-deployment of nuclear weapons outside national territories. Thirdly, after very complicated negotiations we’ve managed to agree on the need to include into the new agreement the fact that strategic non-nuclear weapons which the United States is actively working on at the moment do affect the strategic stability in the world. We will push for this problem to be reflected more clearly not only in this context, but also in the field of registering and monitoring the numbers of this new class of strategic weapons. The advent of strategic non-nuclear weapons which use the same carriers used for nuclear charges will certainly destabilize the situation. The national means of reconnaissance will simply not be able to tell whether there’s a nuclear or non-nuclear carrier in the sky. This means higher risks, and our American partners have met our concerns with an understanding that we need to overcome these risks in the new agreements. We will work on this.

Q.: One of the problems that experts mention regarding this agreement is the issue of re-mountable warheads. And they spoke exactly about the USA. Has this problem been considered in the documents signed? Or was it an issue to be discussed yet?

LAVROV: It’s a topic for future discussion. The re-mountable warheads issue is directly linked to the number of warhead carriers. The more carriers there are, the more reasons we have to suppose that warheads may be mounted on them despite the fact that the number of warheads is decreasing at the moment.

Q.: Now when the document is signed by the two presidents, negotiations are to be held. What will be the format of the negotiations?

LAVROV: I think this will be very concentrated negotiations. Both parties have formed delegations who actually have prepared the document of mutual understanding signed by the two presidents. It’s been quite a while since April 1. The fact that we’ve managed to stipulate the basic ideas of the future agreement gives us hope that the rest of the issues, which are not easy to solve, of course, because the principles have to be transferred into the formal language of agreements. But anyway, we have grounds to think that we will be through with all that work by December. We feel that the American team shares this mood as well as President Obama.

On his part, President Medvedev fully agrees and assures that everything depends on us and we can do it. By the way, I’d like to mention that we started negotiations about the replacement of the old expired agreement with a new one much earlier with the Bush administration. It was about two years before the end of the term of the administration. We faced a complete unwillingness to do anything legally binding. So the progress we’ve made in a short term, in comparison with that period, encourages us.

Q.: As far as I understand, the biggest achievement of Russian diplomacy in the process of preparation is that the idea of the strategic nuclear forces is now linked to an American idea of building a missile defense shield in Europe. If it is really so, then what does it look like?

LAVROV: In the agreed-upon principles stipulated in the mutual understanding statement signed by the presidents, the necessity of a new agreement is formulated. It states the necessity to work out and stipulate the relationship between the strategic defensive systems and the strategic offensive systems. And it’s clear that a missile system is a defensive system with a strategic character and we will presume that if our partners make a decision to create an American missile shield with a global range, this will definitely bring into question the perspective of any further reduction of strategic offensive weapons. And they are well aware of this.

As opposed to the Bush administration, they do not want to make deadlocked unilateral decisions of creating bases in the Czech Republic and Poland but they want to analyze this project – the third missile base location – and they are ready to carry out such research in two to three months time as President Obama said to President Medvedev. It’s been agreed that after the results of this research, we will hold consultations in Washington, D.C. Today and yesterday we confirmed to the American side, to President Obama, that our suggestion is still current. The suggestion which was voiced before by President Putin two years ago in Kennebunkport regarding the rejection of unilateral actions in this sphere and establishing many-sided negotiations on this issue. This included such countries as the United States, Russia, European countries, starting with the mutual analysis of missile threats.Yesterday, at the negotiations in the Kremlin, President Medvedev confirmed our proposal.

By the way, it was developed in March 2009 when we had a meeting with Hillary Clinton. The American side has elaborated on suggestions for establishing a collective joint analysis of missile threats. Also, there’s a collective discussion of the possible measures: first of all, political and diplomatic and many others may be worked out to neutralize such threats. Yesterday, at the very last moment, we managed to agree upon a conclusion of a separate statement about missile defense based on the same principles as we mentioned: the principles of an equal and mutually respectful dialogue aimed at working out the forms and methods of tracking and further neutralization of missile threats. It concerns any place on Earth where such a threat may appear and where there may be danger for our countries, for Europe and for other countries who agree with the idea of preventing the escalation of tension in the world.

Q.: We remember that before the elections Barack Obama was not a big fan of deploying of a third missile defense base location in Europe. After the election he became more cautious. This issue is not being discussed in Moscow. What do you think? Are the Americans ready to abandon this plan, or is it a very important thing for them which they are planning to use during the talks on strategic nuclear weapons?

LAVROV: I hope that the research which our American partners have mentioned and which is going in Washington, D.C. at the moment will end up in an understanding of the counterproductive character of unilateral actions in this sphere. Cooperation that we suggested and that was stipulated in a statement about missile defense, and agreed upon yesterday by the presidents, will show the contrast of the advantages of collective work in comparison with unilateral decisions which cause real risk for the Russian Federation. This is irrespective of the indicated aims of the location of the missile defense bases in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Q.: The transit agreement is also an important issue. Leaving aside the language of international law, in your own words, will we see American soldiers in Russia, or will it only be limited to air or railroad transit?

LAVROV: It’s strictly air transit. The transit agreement stipulates that it can both use commercial flights and U.S. Air Force flights. American cargo aviation has plans for a large number of flights – more than 4,000 per year. This is a significant volume of transportation.

Q.: That’s fifteen to thirty a day?

LAVROV: I guess it’s less than that. If we divide four thousand by three hundred and sixty five, well, you are probably good with numbers. In any case, this is a lot. It is in our interests to keep the coalition which is in Afghanistan under the U.N. Security Council mandate fully supplied and working efficiently. I’ll get to that a bit later. As for the things which have been stipulated in the transit agreement, I’d like to point out that what we’ve got is a legal component which we found fully acceptable. The laws of the Russian Federation will be used in each case when we want to and when we demand it. We have the right to request of any flight to land on Russian territory to check if the actual cargo onboard matches the shipping documents. The procedure is fully documented. This is a legally clean and efficient mechanism, it has been accepted by the American side and I hope it will function smoothly.

We don’t have any plans for railroad transportation. Until yesterday’s agreement was signed, we’ve had similar arrangement on military transit with France and Germany. We’ve recently signed it with Spain, and are prepared to sign it with Italy. They are all working fine. As for railroad transit, we only have this type of agreement with Germany. But in practice it has never been used. It seems that with the signing of the transit agreement with America, the needs of the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan will be fulfilled, but the Germans do have the railroad transit option.

Q.: Are there any other control mechanisms, apart from a demand to land a plane for a check on Russian territory? I think there has been an active discussion on that question.

LAVROV: No, we were only interested in the rights, which were legally documented, to request any flight traveling on the above-mentioned agreement to make a landing and undergo inspection. Should the American side refuse to do this, we have the right to refuse to let the flight through.

Q.: So the Russian observers will not be performing checks before take-off on American bases?

LAVROV: There’s no need for this. We believe that the check-up procedures which have been worked out and stipulated in the agreement and involve landing the planes are quite enough.

Q.: We’ve discussed the three key issues. Can you name any other important questions in bilateral relations between Russia and the U.S.?

LAVROV: Since we are still speaking about Afghanistan, I’d like to mention that apart from the transit agreement, the two presidents have signed a statement on Afghanistan. It sets out a common approach in dealing with the country’s problems: stabilizing the situation and ensuring efficient work of the government and its security forces. We need to help the Afghan people to shoulder responsibility for the fate of their country. That includes strong counter-terrorism initiatives.

I’d like to highlight the items which outline the goals in the fight against drug trafficking. We are not only speaking about what’s best – destroying the drug crops or providing Afghan farms with ways of cultivating alternative crops. We’ve made official things which Russia has long been talking about and hasn’t seen any adequate response to or understanding. It’s the need to destroy laboratories – that is drug production – apart from fighting drug cultivation. A very important thing is that we’ve recorded the need to stop the supplies of the so-called precursors to Afghanistan. It is impossible to produce heroin without precursors which the country lacks. They are mostly delivered from Europe. And it is obviously easier to ensure control on the territory of European countries than inside Afghanistan. The problem of precursors is a technical one, but is one of huge importance of stopping the production of heroin. I hope this statement will help us to move along these guidelines as well as move further in providing political support for the efforts of the Afghan people to stabilize the situation.

Q.: One of the eternal stumbling blocks in the relations between the U.S. and Russia is the Jackson-Vanick amendment. I know that today at breakfast Prime Minister Putin and President Obama dwelt on that issue. What did they say about it?

LAVROV: Well, it was discussed yesterday during the negotiations between President Obama and President Medvedev. It was not us who started talking about it. President Obama admitted that now it’s a problem of the American side, since all the restrictions on migration from the Soviet Union and from Russia to Israel and any other country were lifted. All possible and impossible terms have expired. The conditions for the amendment’s abolishment changed several times. The situation hasn’t changed since.

President Obama understands the clumsiness of the American side on this issue and he pledged that lifting these amendments would be among the first priorities of his administration. Well, I wish I can be hopeful that it will be so. Not because we have practical inconveniences, because the US president suspends its practical implementation every year. But from a principled point of view it’s not very decent for the powerful state to hear through Congress that we must preserve this amendment until we gain the lifting of restrictions at least for meat delivery.

Q.: Which actually have been lifted?

LAVROV: They have been lifted after the American side provided us with information we had inquired after. But such situations may appear in the future. You know, no one is insured against all those epidemics and pandemics. And if such a thing happens again, we will stop the deliveries from the U.S. or any other country where the virus manifests itself just to ensure the safety of our citizens. Again, we will be told to settle this problem and only after it’s solved we will review the issue of lifting the Jackson-Vanick amendment. Probably, it will be unfair. Recently I heard that someone in the USA – in Congress, if I am not mistaken – suggested that they should cancel the Jackson-Vanick amendment.

Q.: So, that’s the suggested way for the modernization of the amendment?

LAVROV: To create a different foundation to be used as long as they need it.

Vesti TV: Thank you for your time.

LAVROV: Thank you.