“Russia needs more clarity on US missile defense plans” – Lavrov
“The US has dropped its missile defense plans [for Central Europe], and developed an alternative system, which would not create problems in its first phase, but we would like more details on further stages,” Lavrov told RT and other media in an exclusive interview on Friday.
The head of Russian diplomacy has also announced that US-Russia talks on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty will resume next week in Geneva and will continue through until December.
Sergey Lavrov also mentioned the connection that exists between strategic offensive and defensive arms and said that now, “for the first time in history,” an agreement on strategic offensive arms is being discussed while the agreement on anti-missile defense is absent.
Lavrov noted that currently the United States is working on a program of non-nuclear strategic arms which, if launched, will have the same effect were it a nuclear program.
“Of course, non-nuclear strategic arms are more humane because they will not cause an enormous numbers of radiation victims,” he said. However, the military power of such arms is more effective than that of nuclear arms, Lavrov added.
Meanwhile, he noted that the US and Russia are doing their best to finish work on the new START by December.
“We will report to our presidents regularly,” he said. “They are personally controlling the issue.”
Lavrov went on to say that other countries that have nuclear weapons should join future Russia-US strategic arms agreements.
“As for involving other nuclear states in the work, apparently this necessity will arise soon,” he said. “The degree of the reduction that Russia proposes, if we agree on these numbers [with the US], is compared to the potential of other nuclear states.”
The Russian foreign minister has also given his view on how relations between Iran and Israel could be normalized. According to Sergey Lavrov, the sides should make advances to improve their relations.
“There is nothing impossible,” he said. “History knows a lot of examples of how the worst enemies find ways to agree.”
Sergey Lavrov recalled that once upon a time Israel helped Iran with its missile program and Iran supplied Israel with oil.
“I do not know when, but I think that normalization of relations [between Israel and Iran] will definitely happen,” the Russian foreign minister said. “The most important thing now is to concentrate on the main issues and not to whip up emotions. Nobody needs war.”
Questions about Iran remain
The Russian foreign minister said that although there is still no proof that Iran's nuclear strategy is anything other than peaceful, questions do remain.
“No one has ever proved that Iran has either the military component to its nuclear program or even that the country has at the very least adopted a decision to develop such a component,” Lavrov said.
However, according to Lavrov the recent revelation of a second nuclear plant in Iran again raised questions about the ability to trust the country.
“The main problem, considering Iran’s nuclear plant that was recently revealed so unexpectedly, is that there are still questions that remain,” he said. “We all want to revive trust that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and being in such a position, our Iranian partners could have revealed their second nuclear plant earlier.”
Russia ready for “reset” with UK
According to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia is ready to “reset” relations with the UK, as already happened with the US.
“We are also ready to renew normal relations with Britain,” Lavrov told the media. “On our part, everything is ready for a reset.”
"We have not frozen work to ease the visa regime with Britain, or cooperation between special services, and have not closed down any channels for cooperation," he added.
The announcement comes ahead of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband's trip to Moscow early next month.
Relations between the countries have been strained since early 2000, when the UK refused Russia’s extradition request for Boris Berezovsky, who stands accused of financial crimes, as well as for several Chechen separatist leaders.
In 2007 the UK accused Russian citizen Aleksander Lugovoy of poisoning former Russian secret services officer Aleksander Litvinenko. Russia refused to extradite Lugovoy.
All this, coupled with Russia’s pressure on British Council offices and tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats, further complicated ties.
Andrey Bystritsky, Voice of Russia broadcasting compamy chairman: Mr. Lavrov, we are glad that you agreed to answer our questions. Such interviews for the institutions broadcasting abroad is becoming a tradition. Today we have Margarita Simonyan – Editor-in-Chief of Russia Today, and Svetlana Mironyuk Head of Ria Novosti news agency, and myself Andrey Bystritsky from the Voice of Russia – we all would like to talk to you about the interim results of Russia’s international activity.
We have collected a great number of questions from our audience on our websites. They all are very curious. The questions, we are going to ask you are from our listeners, readers and actually clients from abroad. The first question is about politics in general.
As we understand, the US and Russia have agreed to dramatically cut their nuclear arsenals. When will the final agreement be signed and will other countries join this agreement, or is this not yet planned?
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister: We’ve agreed to work hard – what we are actually doing with our American partners – to fulfill the Presidents’ orders and do the utmost to reach a new agreement on reduction of the strategic offensive weapons by the time the current agreement expires. The delegations are working hard. Right next week another round of negotiations starts, it will long for about several weeks. Actually the delegations will be working in Geneva until December. We’ve reached an agreement on a number of questions. But still there are issues, which have been approved by the two presidents, but have not yet been put into the form of an agreement.
For us, there are two most important issues which are listed as the topics which need an urgent decision in a joint statement by Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, which they have agreed upon at the Summit in Moscow in July of this year. The first of the two issues is related to interconnection between the strategic, offensive and defensive weapons. It’s the first time in history when a treaty on the reduction of offensive weapons is being worked out without a treaty on missile defence. The US withdrew from this treaty, but which was valid at the time of reaching the previous agreements. So this correlation between the nuclear sword and the nuclear shield was always taken into consideration.
And when the treaty on missile defence was concluded, there was a conscious decision made not to develop a global defence from missiles in order not to unleash an arms race, because the global defence will be tempting the counterpart to scale up the power of their offensive potential. Now there is no such treaty, this restricting factor is absent. And the US is actively developing its missile defence system. They rejected the Bush Administration plans, which preoccupied us, because they were really aimed at and could really be used to cause risks to our strategic potential. But by rejecting the plans of positioning the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, the Obama administration has worked out an alternative scheme, which by all appearances will not cause as much difficulty in the first stage as their previous plan with missile deployment in Eastern Europe.
We welcomed this plan. We welcomed the political-psychological factor, the positive idea, which was contained in Barack Obama’s statement. But as for the next steps which are planned in the new American schedule, we would like to have more details. As the officials from Washington say, by the final stage (the year 2018) the system will have had the long-range missile detainment component. And here we must be clear on the issue. It’s clear that a lot of understanding is required for the geographic factor of the system, which was designed as mobile, taking into consideration the fact that they are going to use some radars as near as Ukraine. It’s strange to hear it, because the radars they have in Ukraine already are turned towards the East and not the South.
So there is a lot of disorder and it leads to various conclusions. But we want to find out the initial idea and to understand our American counterparts, whether they are ready to develop the potential of protection from a medium-range and short-range missiles – and such menaces can come from different sides – whether they are ready to do it together with us – that’s what actually the Presidents have agreed upon.
They have agreed to perform a joint analysis of missile challenges. And that must be the first phase of cooperation. I am dwelling on this aspect of our strategic contacts with our American counterparts, because it’s really very important.
In the statements of President Obama and President Medvedev in July of this year it was clearly stated that it is necessary to take into account the relation between the strategic offensive and defensive weapons. Right now we are working on including this connection in the agreement. So far, we have not found the right words which would enable us to fulfill the Presidents’ orders.
The second aspect which is of high priority too, and which is new in comparison to the previous negotiations on the strategic offensive weapons – is a US programme which is being actively developed now. It’s a programme on Strategic Weapons in Non-nuclear Arms, which if launched will be in no way different from nuclear missiles. And there may be purely technical-military problems. But even in a more serious strategic sense, of course, the non-nuclear strategic weapons are more humanitarian, because in case they are used, there won’t be so many victims of radiation, as is the case with use of nuclear weapons.
But some experts say that it will be a weapon of greater military strategic might. It may even be more effective than nuclear weapons. During the agreements reached earlier between Moscow and Washington, there weren’t any plans on creating weapons of new quality, and of course we need to take it into consideration. Our presidents have agreed about it in July of this year. At present we are working with the Americans on this problem, trying to find a way to resolve it.
As for the other questions, they are more traditional: the rules of counting, the rules of verifications control. We have an understanding that in current conditions, when the extent of trust has grown significantly in comparison to the period of the Cold War, we need to trust each other more. And we need to agree upon such measures of control and verification which will be easier, which will base themselves in greater trust and will be less costly.
We are doing the utmost to finish this by December; we will do our best. We report to our presidents on a regular basis. This issue is under the presidents’ individual control. As for the other nuclear powers joining our work, it’s evident that soon such a necessity will arise, because the extent of reduction suggested by Russia (if we agree upon those figures) will not be comparable to the nuclear potentials which other official nuclear powers have. But we should not forget that in accordance to the non-proliferation treaty, the non-nuclear powers are obliged to create, encourage the conditions which will facilitate nuclear disarmament.
So there is a lot of work for everybody. And Russia and the US are the recognized leaders at least due to the fact that our countries have the biggest nuclear stockpiles in the world. But at further stages the question will arise concerning the official nuclear powers and the unofficial (but in reality owning nuclear weapons) cooperating in this matter, as well as all the others.
Margarita Simonyan, RT Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Lavrov, Continuing with the weapons issue, the UN has attempted to strike a deal to ban weapons in space. The only country that opposes this agreement is the United States. What do you think this means for the rest of the world and Russia in particular?
S.L.: It’s not quite so. The UN is not working on an agreement on this matter. They are discussing this matter, but without any type of international judicial documents to go along with it. This matter is being discussed at the Disarmament conference in Geneva, and, while it is serviced by the UN, it is its own independent structure. Naturally, all nations that have nuclear power are a part of that organization.
The subject of space and nuclear arms is ancient. Back in 1967, there was a signed agreement that forbade the placing of nuclear weapons in space, as well as other weapons of mass destruction. It didn’t say anything about other types of weapons. The former Soviet Union tried to fill that gap and in 1981 it presented an agreement that would ban the use of any types of weapons in space. And in 1983, Moscow presented an agreement that would ban the use of force in space, as well as from space to earth.
Due to different reasons we did not manage to fulfill this task – there were disagreements, there were objections. I will not dwell on it in greater detail, but as for now the situation is such that at present this issue is becoming more urgent. The technological opportunities improve to enable the installation of weapons in space.
Well, you see, nuclear weapons have always played a very important role and are playing it now. The role is to guarantee the support of strategic balance and strategic stability. And the countries which own nuclear weapons – at least the Nuclear Five – always thought this role of the nuclear weapons more important – nuclear weapons as a means of control. And non-nuclear weapons, especially if they are located in space, will be attracting people to use them.
And at some point there may be a very serious problem. It’s better for us to prevent such situations when temptations are located in space and to take measures in advance to eliminate the possibility of such an outcome.
Russia, together with the People’s Republic of China, in February of 2008 at the session of the Disarmament Congress suggested a draft of the agreement for preventing the placing of weapons of any type in space. This agreement was supported by the majority of the EU countries, and the majority of the developing countries. At that time the Bush administration was in power in the US. And there were some objections. They thought such prohibition inappropriate. The Obama administration, which is viewing all the possible directions of US Foreign policy, so far is getting familiar with this idea. We may only hope that the attitude of the new administration will be constructive.
Svetlana Mironyuk, Ria Novosti news agency Editor-in-Chief: I’d like to ask a question which is traditional for our interview meetings, about the Commonwealth of Independent States. Just before the recent CIS summit, and also after it was over, as leaders of some of the Asian state members didn’t arrive to take part in the summit, certain statements were made that the CIS is in a crisis. Can we indeed talk about a CIS crisis, and if we are talking about a CIS crisis, does the customs alliance have a future?
S.L.: I think that in the CIS quite a lot of things have happened both in and around the CIS. CIS is an organization that has proven to be efficient. CIS played a hugely important role in the time of the fall of the Soviet Union and made it possible to keep and maintain contacts that are essential for the wellbeing of our people, and our economies; and over the years of its existence the CIS has accumulated quite a solid experience in terms of organization, technologies, and tackling issues that cannot be addressed single-sidedly. Today, the CIS encompasses over 60 industry-based cooperation bodies. Not all of them are working 100% efficiently, and we are working together under the orders of the heads of our countries on cleaning up all this organizational structure in order to close off those bodies which are inefficient or have little efficiency; but many are working very well and help us with lots of problems, such as fighting organized crime – the addressing of which is impossible without an aligned cooperation of all Foreign Ministries and other law-enforcement authorities across countries – and, last but not least, maintaining economic processes.
S.M.: Is the number of such inefficient organizations large? Are there 10, 20..?
S.L.: It’s considerable. I cannot tell you the exact numbers, but we’ve shut down a few dozen over recent years. But other organizations, let me repeat, are either working efficiently and/or possess the potential that we all wish to use all the more actively. Let’s say, there are work immigration issues, environmental problems – we cannot tackle them on our own. A joint effort is very efficient in these areas of concern. Not to mention the human aspect, such a family relationships, and many other things including economic connections that have been built over decades. And it is not accidental that over the last two or three years some countries that did not previously favor the CIS much in general, such as Ukraine, became more active, and came up with some initiatives to drive the process of making the CIS work all the more efficiently. First of all, the practice of the so-called joint chairmanship has been introduced, that means that the country which is the Chair is chairing simultaneously across all the key authority bodies – that is the Council of the Heads of States, Council of the Heads of Governments, Council of Foreign Ministers, and the Economic Council. Until recently, we might have had up to four different countries chairing these councils, and this was a challenge in terms of alignment. Today it is more lined up. Secondly, a practice of countries’ appointed coordinators has been introduced. Russia has appointed its Vice Premier Igor Shuvalov. This also increases the level of responsibility for implementing the decisions made by the heads of states, and it increases the quality of preparation of the proposals submitted for the CIS summit’s agenda. At the same time, as part of this reform package, the CIS Development Concept and its Implementation Action Plan have been adopted. The CIS Economic Strategy until 2020 has been approved, too, and although it was approved prior to the breakout of the global crisis, these days we see that many of its provisions are still good and valid; and in any case its implementation will help us overcome today’s economic and financial difficulties in a more efficient way. Also, within the framework of this reform, a Humanitarian Cooperation Council and Fund have been established in the CIS, and this activity – although it may be not so widely publicized – is of very high interest. We run cinema festivals, theater tours, sports competitions… A Youth CIS Orchestra has been established, and its members are young talents from all the CIS countries. So I think the CIS is working out new ways to continue its work, and the fact that it remains to be a unique platform for political dialogue is, I believe, recognized and valued by everyone, including the heads of those states who could not attend the summit for the reasons related to their working schedules.
As for the customs alliance, it is practically ready to be put into operation, all the paperwork has been completed, the single customs rates have been agreed, and the customs alliance should start its work on January 1. What is important is that other CIS members aside from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, also declare their interest in the customs alliance. Kyrgyzstan has made a statement of interest and desire to be included on the customs alliance charter; the relevant work is under way. The customs alliance has adopted a provision on the order and procedures of joining the alliance for all interested states, so customs alliance has a long-term future ahead of it, and very soon we will see it in action.
S.M.: We are having process of consolidation going on as well. For example “The Voice of Russia” is gathering an association of Russian-speaking radio stations in November.
S.L.:I heard about it.
S.M.: And as for the Ria Novosti News Agency, we are organizing a MEDIA Forum for all the national Media in the CIS countries and the Baltic states in December. And of course we are inviting the Foreign Ministry to participate in both events.
S.L.: For sure! It’s an important part of work on the humanitarian cooperation.
A.B.: There are a lot of good things happening now it the CIS countries. And there are many willing to come. We started broadcasting in the languages of the CIS countries – in Ukrainian, in Georgian. And this makes a very good impression. The Voice of Russia will turn 80 years old on November 2.
S.L.: We’ll send you our best wishes.
A.B.Better if you come.
S.L.: We will try, if we are in Moscow.
A.B.: Thank you.
A.B.: By the way, here is the question which was very often written on our website. I will formulate it in a different way, but it means the same, anyway. Mr. Lavrov you have been Head of the Foreign Ministry for quite a long time. And since you are a prominent and very important figure – head of Russia’s diplomacy, many want to learn your viewpoint on the dynamics of attitude to Russia from its main foreign partners, world’s powers’. What has changed during your being Foreign Minister of Russia?
S.L.: First of all, Russia due to its geography, history, economic and intellectual potential, and cultural potential, it is a country with global interests. Moreover, all over the world we have our compatriots, and it’s wonderful that the mass media which you represent here helps to keep the unity of the Russian world. But being a country with global interests Russia is interested in having partners in all regions. We have formed our national interests. They are open, they are very simple. We want to live in a secure world with kind neighbors. We want to have maximum advantages from the international division of labour. We want to occupy a fitting place in the system of international economics and finances. For this reason, we, certainly, need to be active in our internal affairs, economy and social issues. To fulfill this, we need a quiet environment around us. We need to decrease risks and threats of the Russian security, which require spending funds for defence. We want to provide our defence at the level of “reasonable sufficiency”.
For this we need economic interaction on the basis of mutual benefit.
We assert our interests coherently and firmly. We don’t slip to confrontation and are always ready to partnership relations with any state on the basis of equal rights, mutual benefit and mutual interests. It’s evident that when Russia began to follow its own national interests, many states didn’t like it, first of all, those countries which in early nineties formed the feeling that we would be just a part of the West and would perceive all its values, all its interests, without any kind of creative interpretation in our own country. Perhaps it was rather naïve to have such illusions, because we really have a rich history. We have our own originality for many-many centuries by many-many peoples. Of course, we perceived the main democratic values. We’ll be defending them, first of all, for our internal development, but we’ll do this, surely, considering our history, culture and traditions and how our people want to see themselves and their country in this world. I sincerely don’t understand those who consider it a certain affront, a certain challenge. I believe it’s an absolutely natural state of affairs, an absolutely natural position. But more and more countries understand that it’s profitable to negotiate with Russia, it’s profitable to fulfill joint projects, which correspond to our and our partners’ interests. At present, more countries are interested in using Russia’s potential, its increased and growing influence in the world for a solution to various international problems. We actively stand for this. We are convinced that international issues, including those which are important for ensuring our international interests, should be and can be solved only by joint efforts. Here I don’t even mention transboundary threats connected with terrorism and drugs traffic, with organized crime, climate changes, or food security. These issues have no boundaries, and cannot be solved without joint efforts. The whole world should act as one person to solve them. Any regional conflict cannot be settled if only one side uses its own mould. It’s necessary to consider a neighbor’s opinion, as well as the opinion of those states which have traditional influence on all participants of the conflict, or this or that part of the conflict. We actively promote and sustain this kind of approach. Now, it may definitely be said that a wave of anti-Russian sentiment in the West after we suppressed Georgia’s attack against South Ossetia has died away, and the Georgian syndrome in our relations with Western partners has passed. Yes, there are still some echoes saying that it’s necessary to back up the regime of Saakashvilli, because Georgia is a small country, offended by a big Russia, but they are just echoes.
So, I believe we feel fine in the world, at least I don’t feel ill at ease when I meet with my colleagues. I participate in many meetings of the President with his partners, heads of states, and I see that these relations are mainly cooperative and mutually respectful. It gives us hope that in practice we will conduct joined mutually beneficial projects and will politicize our relations less.
M.S.: Turning to the question of last year’s conflict in South Ossetia, European countries have already recognized Georgia as the aggressor in this conflict. Of course, many in Russia and other countries have called this a success and a victory for Russian diplomacy. Do you think it will have any effect, and help bring about the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states sooner?
S.L.: The report prepared by the Commission headed by Heidi Tagliavini was ordered by the European Union. By the way, it was ordered several months after the war ended, when South Ossetia and Abkhazia weren’t facing any threats. They became independent states and were recognized by Russia. I believe it has been ordered by our European partners for one simple reason: by that time it was clear who attacked who, but there was a bit of inertia at the statements which have been made, criticizing Russia, and many people were still uncertain. They probably needed an occasion to receive some independent verification of what really had happened. Now they got this sort of verification, and I believe for many people it will be more comfortable in stepping back from their previous public statements. It has taken place already.
As for recognition, besides Russia, these two republics were recognized by Nicaragua and Venezuela. Russia doesn’t ask anyone to recognize Tskhinval and Suhum. We believe each state should decide independently whether to adopt such decisions or not. We hope more countries will be in favour of truth and legal justness. We know that both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are interested in increasing a number of the states which would recognize their independence. We support them and clarify to the whole world that these two republics live their own life, take an active life in arranging their statehood, day-to-day life in economy and social affairs. Their security is ensured by appropriate treaties with the Russian Federation. The only thing disappointing is that our long-term attempts, taken back in the days when nothing happened yet last August, to let South Ossetia and Abkhazia have the chance to talk about their situation to the world, are still unsuccessful. To come to New York and tell the world community about what happened in South Ossetia and Abkhazia they need American visas. In recent years, when the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia was viewed by the UN Security Council on the request of Abkhazia whether to issue visas to their delegation to enable them equally with Georgia to talk about their situation, the former administration refused us each time. At present, Georgia put forward a draft resolution, which concerns the issues of refugees and internally displaced people. It was adopted last month at the General Assembly, but we voted against it, because the topic which couldn’t create any difficulties, being purely humanitarian, was overloaded with politicized terms aimed at proving facts that didn’t exist, that Abkhazia and South Ossetia were part of Georgia. But when this resolution was put forward we again asked to issue visas for delegates from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who wanted to visit New York in order to tell how they tackled the issue raised in this resolution – the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. But they were refused visas. Russia stands for not creating artificial barriers in global communication with the representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I am convinced if these barriers were absent, the number of countries recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia would increase.
S.M.: Minister Lavrov, this decade will obviously be the last where the G8 countries set the priorities for global development, as we see the G8 is being replaced by the G20. On one hand, this is part and parcel of the modern geopolitical landscape. On the other hand, for Russia this may mean an erosion of its role in this political institution. Do you see this as a problem? And if this erosion is taking place it is obvious bilateral cooperation and contacts become more important. There has been a reset in US-Russia relations. Soon you are expecting the arrival of your British colleague Mr. Milliband. Should we expect a relaunch of relations between Russia and Great Britain, and how do you see the role of Russia in the G20 in this instance?
S.L.: There is a lot of questions in one package.
First, the G8 and the G20 and relations between these global bodies – we are not afraid of changing the boundaries of Russia’s role. Even when the G8 was the key-player on the international arena, including the issues which are now to be tackled by the G20 more actively, back then Russia spoke in favor of a wider use of the emerging economies by the G8. This initiative was backed by all other participants of the G8. Thus, the G5 was formed, which included India, China, Brazil, Mexico and the South African Republic. Later the G5 was regularly invited to the G8 summits. Even a new formula was invented: the G8 +G5. Then this group, the G8+G5, began to convene under the title “the Heiligendamm process” named after a German city where the G8 took place two years ago. By the way, besides these five countries, other developing countries were also invited, but the G5 was a constant partner of the G8. The G20 appeared not because the G8 was not good enough, or that the G8+G5 was still too small, it was formed due to objective reasons. Financial and economic challenges which arose during the crisis just cannot be solved without the participation of those countries, which now make up the G20. Now the G20 will be the main center for coordination of different approaches while solving the financial and economic issues and conducting the reform of the international monetary and financial system. It’ll be the main center of approvals and approaches. In any case, after that, all decisions adopted by the G20 should be legitimized in a more universal format, and the role of the UN seems to be optimal here. The UN is an organization which has a unique legitimacy. Not by chance, the UN conference on the Financial and Economic crisis took place in June. Its decisions took into account what had been done by that time by the G20 and at the same time they influenced the preparation to the following the G20 summit.
As for the G8, it won’t disappear. Its summit has already been sheduled for Jume, if I am right, 25-27, in Canada. In parallel, the G20 will also take place, but the G8 will continue to deal with its own issues, because its agenda is much wider if compared with the issues which have been decided to be allocated to the G20 priority. I believe we will still work in the G20 and in the G8. These global bodies don’t oppose each other. I’d like to repeat, that the issues of the Financial and Economic crisis are so deep, that they need the efforts of a bigger format body than the G8 is needed to confront them
Russia considers this process to be healthy, correct and objective. Moreover, in the conception of Russia’s foreign policy – President Medvedev says that in a modern world we should form mechanisms of a collective leadertship. Such mechanisms can be very different – the G8 was one of them. Now the G20 will join them. SCO, BRIC, let alone the UN Security Council, all these are mechanisms of collective leadership. All these events reflect the trend of developing market diplomacy in difference from bloc diplomacy, when somebody tried to solve all issues, not listening to other opinions. It is a positive process and it will be useful for international relations.
S.M.: In regards to British resetting…
S.L.: As for the British reset, it is like in the case with the United States, there were no efforts on our part that were required. We were ready for partnership and cooperation on equal basis. And the US understood that it is the right way to follow, when they refused from unilateral approaches of the President Bush Administration, when President Obama said that none of the countries, I mean, first of all, America, should dictate to other countries, but all countries shoud work on an equal basis, then our relations got reset. We are also ready to resume relations with Great Britain. We did not freeze progress on the agreements to make the visa regime simpler; we did not freeze the contacts between the two countries’ special services. It interfered with fighting against terrorism, because such freezing happened. And we did not cut any channels for cooperation with the United Kingdom on our own initiative. This was done by London. And I hope London will also be ready to re-launch the relations with Russia at some stage. If the visit of David Miliband in early November contributes to this, Russia has everything ready to reset.
A.B.: One more question, Latin America is a quickly developing region that is becoming more active and influential, and in the future is going to be even more influential. So, from Russia’s point of view, does Mexico have a chance to join with the BRIC countries to become an observer there, or take any other position?
S.L.: First of all, Mexico did not apply. Secondly, BRIC, to answer your question of the listener, is an absolutely informal structure and there are no documents regulating its activity. It’s just meeting at the political level, including summits, to coordinate the stances and approaches particularly to economic and financial issues. The efficiency of this component of BRIC fully manifested itself when the latest G20 Summit was prepared. I am certain BRIC will play a considerable role in the financial and economic sectors and in the further reforming of the international financial system.
Other questions are also discussed within BRIC, with the exchange of opinions on important international problems. Let me say it again, it’s not a structure that has been formed from statistics, as some say – even though at a certain stage the four countries were recognized as the fastest growing economies – it is due to the fact that on most international issues, the four countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are associates. All of them advocate a multilateral solution of problems, a strengthening of the UN’s central role in international affairs, international law and regulating conflicts by peaceful means through reaching accords and agreements, and so forth.
And there is no question whether BRIC may expand. I would also put Republic of South Africa along with Mexico as an associate. So, we have Mexico, South Africa, China, India and Brazil – the five countries that co-operate with the Group of Eight and will continue to do so. In this capacity, we have a very close relationship and very useful dialogue with each and every one of them.
A.B.: Thank you.
M.S.: Minister Lavrov, many observers here and abroad believe the Middle East peace process has come to a dead end. What are hopes for its restoration and what might you expect from a possible international conference in Moscow? And, more generally, what role is Russia going to play in this process?
S.L.: The situation is rather complicated and serious. However, I would not call it a deadlock, because, as we speak right now, active efforts are being made in many directions so as to help resolve quite a number of problems. First of all it concerns the Palestinian-Israeli talks.
The Quartet of the Middle East mediators – Russia, the US, the EU and the UN – at the level of ministers and the UN Secretary-General – had a meeting in New York City a couple of weeks ago, where we discussed the situation and reached a common decision to actively back the efforts led by the US in the person of Senator George Mitchell on coordinate terms for direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine. It’s not an easy job.
The new Israeli government led by [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who are in very close contact with, has a tougher stance than his predecessors, so more efforts are needed to create such terms for direct talks. However, we are all in unison in our support the work carried out by the US envoy in the Middle East, Sen. Mitchell.
Also, envoys from Russia, the EU and UN are working in the region to lend support to him.
In parallel, the process of resuming Palestinian unity is under way. Egypt acts as mediator, and our position is that all parties should back their efforts. I am afraid to put an evil eye on that there are chances, although fragile, that some progress will be achieved. At least there have been reports that Fatah is ready to back Egypt’s latest initiatives towards Hamas on how to normalise the situation and agree on holding elections next year. Hamas promised to respond soon.
We are actively appealing to all the Palestinians to reach an accord soon and create a normal, both political and economic, life on Palestinian territories.
There is indeed a common goal – having an international conference on the Middle East. The Quartet’s coordinated opinion is that the plan is approved by the UN Security Council and actively backed by the League of Arab States, with the agreement from Israel and Palestine themselves, along with Lebanon and Syria. The conference will be held soon after the actual resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli talks, which will let us mobilize strong international support for those talks and make the world community take it under its control, if you will.
That’s about our plans and the current situation – again, difficult, but far from being in a deadlock.
S.M.: Suddenly, the falsification of history has become a major topic. There have been intense discussions lately on the role of certain states in the 1930-40s. President [Medvedev] has commented on the issue, as has the prime minister. A special Presidential Commission to Counter Attempts to Falsify History [to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests] has been set up. Do you think such discussions are useful? And is there any point in promoting Russia’s interpretation of history into the public opinion abroad?
S.L.:We’ve always considered such discussions useful for historians. Many years ago, Russia set up several bilateral commissions with its partners – Germany, Poland, Lithuania and several others. Historians should do their job – seeking the facts and new details to form a bigger picture of episodes in history, also the history of WWII, especially during the period between the World Wars – there are many interesting things there, including the results of WWI and the agreements reached then – who allotted what lands to themselves, and who was left with impaired interests and respective emotions and plans. All that should be researched, with the main purpose in mind – to avoid those mistakes and prevent the world from reaching such a disaster.
One should research honestly though, in order not to make history a tool of today’s politics. It was not us who wanted the dialogue on this issue reach an official level. It’s become a fashion to delve into history as part of state policy. Some were guided by Russophobia when choosing this. Some wanted to create some conditions to rewrite the results of the war, with an aim to get some material advantage in compensations and so forth.
It’s only sad. Given some of our neighbours and other countries have brought the subject of history onto a state level, the Presidential Commission was established. However, this Commission will not be engaged in rewriting history or any censorship of history as a science. It will lend assistance to historians, and will provide normal and independent conditions for their work.
As for the moral and ethical aspect of this problem, there is no way anyone can take the victory [in WWII] from us. We are not going to give it away to anyone. This is what the president and the government have said – I believe it’s clear to all.
Given internationally binding legal rulings recognised by all, to mention the Nuremberg Tribunal first of all, what else can be said? Everything that contradicts the rulings by the international community about the results of WWII is illegal. Besides the Nuremberg Trials, there is the UN Charter, with special provisions guaranteeing that the results of WWII will not be changed. All the states, including those that are trying to replay the subject, have signed and ratified the UN Charter and must religiously observe them.
S.M.: The official interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials is still working at RIA news agency.
S.M.: Enver Nazibovich Mamedov.
S.L.: Does he still go to work?
S.M.: He is alive.
S.L.: I know he is, but does he go to work? How old is he?
S.L.: It’s not the end yet. May God grant him good health.
A.B.: I have another question on the topic of Iran. Much passion and controversy surround this issue. Will Israel strike Iran? What is the role of Russia in resolving those conflicts surrounding Iran?
S.L.: We’d like to concentrate on Iran’s nuclear programme. This issue is the center of attention, although there are other events around this country as well.
It’s an issue that needs to be closed. We are categorically against nuclear proliferation. We want full clarity about Iran’s nuclear programme.
At the same time we emphasise Iran’s legal right to access the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy. And we do cooperate with Iran about its peaceful nuclear programme and are completing the construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Plant and are ready to take part in further projects within the peaceful nuclear energy programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran and want all the questions from the past when the Iranian governments were engaged in secret projects of nuclear fuel cycle. Following the IAEA inspections, previous and current, so far nothing prohibited has been revealed.
There are issues, however, that need to be closed. Iran has closed many of them, whereas the IAEA wants the remaining ones to have satisfactory explanations and responses. And we do support the IAEA in that. Again, what we are doing in Iran is fully legitimate and fully complies with the non-proliferation regime and IAEA regulations, under the control and direct participation of this agency.
As for strikes on Iran, no-one has ever shown or proven that it’s not only that Iran has a military component in its nuclear programme, but it has not even decided to create such a component.
Indeed, there have been many questions. The latest events when Iran suddenly announced it had had one more uranium-enrichment plant were really unexpected. Incidentally, as it is turning out, some of our Western partners had known about it. So it is yet not clear why we have not been actively cooperating with Iran on the nuclear programme, did not tell us about the other project within that programme, and why our Western partners had not told us they had information about this facility. It’s a weird situation. When something is of concern, related questions should be raised earlier.
Nevertheless, an important agreement was reached at the meeting held in Geneva on October 1 between representatives from Russia, the US, the EU and Iran, including that the IAEA would send its inspectors to the facility that appears far from being at its completion stage. The agency should inspect and verify everything and report what it has seen there.
The second agreement reached at the meeting concerns a scheme of supplying fuel for the reactor at the Tehran Nuclear Research Centre, which is not banned by anyone and is in operation, producing isotopes for medical purposes. It’s running out of the fuel and needs more next year.
It’s been agreed in principle that it would be possible to use the reduced-enrichment uranium Iran had produced itself. According to this scheme, it is envisaged that Russia would enrich the uranium up to the level required, while France would make fuel assemblies.
At the moment, the IAEA is preparing a meeting with experts supposed to eventually approve the scheme, I hope, and coordinate its implementation schedule.
The third agreement reached at this very important meeting in Geneva on October 1, is about perhaps an issue of paramount importance – the parties agreed to start talks on the essence of the Iranian nuclear programme, apart from other issues of interest, the clarification of all the aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme being crucial.
As long as we move towards the goal, there will be practical opportunities created for Iran resuming its presence in the international economic life and the political affairs in the region, where Iran can and must play a constructive role – that is help settle quite a number of situations. Iran does have such capacity towards Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions of the Middle and Near East.
As for strikes, reports from newspapers or TV screens with simple or even simplistic slogans like “Iran’s Nuclear Bomb Should Be Stopped” penetrate the brains of the audience very quickly. Again, nobody has proven this. The IAEA that submits its report to the Board of Managers of this agency every three months always makes it a point that it carries out all its inspections in Iran, has access to all the declared nuclear materials. The IAEA has not detected a switch of any nuclear material from peaceful purposes to anything else.
Indeed, the IAEA does want to get answers to the pending questions. This is what it wants.
S.M.: Did the IAEA know about the second plant?
S.L.: No, it did not. Legalistically speaking, as Iran explains, one can proceed from what concerns their direct legalistic obligations towards the IAEA. They were not supposed to inform before the loading of fuel. Let me say it again, one can search various legalistic explanations, which may be possible. However, the main problem arising from this facility so suddenly revealed to everyone’s surprise, that there is still a pending question to Iran. And we all want to restore trust to the exclusively peaceful nuclear programme of Iran.
In this situation, our Iranian partners could have done this earlier. And those who had known about the construction of that facility would have done just right to have informed the immediate participants in the efforts to unblock the situation around the nuclear programme of Iran.
Generally, I would think that Israel and Iran begin fixing their relations, which is not at all impossible. History knows many examples when sworn foes could find ways for accord – take Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat – no-one could have imagined Israel could reach an accord with them about anything. However, as you can see, the situation has radically changed since then.
Israel, in its turn, historically not long ago – during the Shah period, assisted Iran in its missile programme. Iran satisfied all or nearly all the demands of Israel in oil. There is a Jewish community in Iran, very respected and not oppressed. Iranian emigrants are as well respected in Israel.
I believe normalizations of the relations is imminent, only a matter of when. The most important thing is to concentrate on essential things and not to build up tension. Nobody needs war.
All: Thank you very much!
S.L.: Thank you!