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Not just listening, but hearing each other, is vital for US and Russia – Lavrov

The new atmosphere in Russian-American relations is supposed to replace the previous situation of “words spoken on a bilateral level that did not coincide with the deeds”, according to the Russian Foreign Minister.

Sergey Lavrov was speaking about the new stage of dialogue between the two countries in an exclusive interview to RT, RIA Novosti news agency and The Voice of Russia radio network.

The issues that the Foreign Minister touched upon included the most pressing matters currently faced by Russia, as well as the entire world. The unprecedented interview covered the uncharted as well as the most critical aspects of Russian foreign policy.

The issues of the Middle East, Afghanistan, the global financial crisis and the recent political crisis in Moldova have been discussed in detail, among others. “Vandalism” and “negligence” were some of the words used by the Foreign Minister to describe the ongoing situation in Moldova.

Lavrov also offered a few basic explanations about the general direction of Russian international policy.

As such, he noted that the country’s foreign policy is not based upon exchanges, rather, its school of thought is based upon delving into detail about any matters facing the country.

At the same time, Russia is dedicated to a multi-vector outlook, a policy that dictates equal rights and mutual benefits amongst all partners in any international relations.

A few unexpected details about a more personal side to Sergey Lavrov’s life were also revealed.

A number of the most interesting questions sent by the RT audience were put to Lavrov during the interview. But all questions sent to our site were personally given to the minister.

This was the first live interview with the Russian Foreign Minister in this format, but won’t be the last, as he promised he will be answering, on air, journalists' questions regularly. So you are invited to keep sending your questions to Sergey Lavrov at the RT website.

Read full interview

Margarita Simonyan, RT Editor-in-Chief: Good afternoon. We’re welcoming Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister and begin our live transmission on the RT channel which broadcasts in English and on its Arabic version Rusiya Al-Yaum. Sergey Lavrov is going to answer questions journalists are interested in and those proposed by RT’s audience on our web-site. Moreover, this program will also be available in many other languages.

Andrey Bystritsky, Voice Russia broadcasting company chairman: That’s right, you can watch the programme in the 30 languages the Voice of Russia broadcasts in, as well as the 13 languages RIA-news works with. You can also find this interview on the web-sites of all their companies, so that you’ll be able to hear, to read and to watch it.

Svetlana Mironyuk, RIA Novosti news agency Editor-in-Chief: But the main thing is that it is the first interview in a series of periodic interviews. And Sergey Lavrov has supported this idea. Quite often, two or three times a week our audience, which is very concerned with Russian foreign policy, will get the latest on any changes.

The first question now. The term “reset” has become much quoted, so that it can be compared with the word “perestroika”. And I am sure, you have to answer questions about it at almost every press conference. But what concrete results do you expect from the reset of Russian-American relations? Are we to expect any new quality and content of these relations? Will the SNF agreement be signed? Will the question concerning Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe be discussed soon?

Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister: Of course, the “reset” term sounds clear and everyone’s talking about it. But I would personally prefer terms and mottos not to replace their actual meanings. We are not going to start Russian-American relations from scratch. These relations were very tight, but the main trouble was that the words spoken on a bilateral level did not coincide with the deeds.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has pointed out in detail what we are expecting from Russian-US relations in an article published by the “Washington Post” just before the first bilateral meeting with his American counterpart Barack Obama in London.

This meeting was very constructive. It allows discussions about a new atmosphere in Russian-American relations, about new dialogue between both nations and the mutual culture of respect, which presumes that the two sides will strive not only to listen, but also to hear each other, to concentrate their efforts on achieving practical deeds. This is the most important signal which distinguishes the present stage of Russian-American relationships from the previous years. And I hope in the future both sides will be speaking the correct words and translating them into real deeds.

The presidents’ approved a joint declaration, where they outlined the main areas of mutual work for the next few months. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies are to prepare concrete proposals for the next summit that will be held upon agreement between presidents Medvedev and Obama in Moscow this July. These proposals will set down the agenda for the next few years.

One of the priorities is the treaty on START, which expires in December. And both presidents have agreed to do everything possible to work out a new treaty based on the previous one by the end of this year. More than that a separate statement was adopted on this issue where the general options are trying to help achieve the agreement on the new treaty. The two presidents agreed to reduce strategic offensive weapons. It suits us because the previous administration spoke only about strategic nuclear arms leaving highly-developed non-nuclear weapons beyond the framework. And it could lead to a situation where the reduction will be compensated for by no less effective non-nuclear weapons.

It's a pleasure for me, that the Deputy State Secretary on disarmament questions Rosa Gottemoeler, an ex-director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, has told me that she totally understands Russian concerns on non-nuclear strategic weapons.

As for conventional weapons in Europe, Russian-American dialogue remains very important. We are interested in breaking the dead-lock, which occurred after the NATO states refused to ratify the statement of its adaptation to the new reality which reflected the disappearing of the Warsaw Pact. Only bilateral relations are not enough to overcome this deadlock. All the countries involved in this treaty should establish a multilateral dialogue. Our proposals for more than two years now are on the negotiating table. And we are counting on the fact that the new administration will carry on this issue, a review of the American policy, and we will be able to find a way out along with our European colleagues. And we hope the interests of all countries will be taken into consideration without making any privileges to some members.

We agree with the initiative proposed by Germany. They plan to hold a meeting of experts at the beginning of June to address all these issues. But when speaking about Russian-American relations, I would not limit them to just the disarmament and strategic issues, even though they are definitely important. We have a positive agenda on a number of issues.

First of all we are talking about the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, tightening the system of measures against non-government players, trying to get their hands on nuclear materials. Many states encounter this problem, and it is necessary to help them, so that the already existing radioactive and nuclear materials are protected and security ensured. There are objectives concerning the expansion of the global coalition that fights against nuclear terrorism. Thank God there have not been any such incidents yet, but safety measures, raising awareness at the national, regional and global levels are necessary. And we have initiated this work together with the Americans in order to practically realize the UN Convention on war on nuclear terrorism, proposed by Russia.

There is also an area of cooperation known as the Peaceful Atom, and provided there is good will from members of the agreement on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, it provides access to peaceful nuclear energy; in this area Russia also has initiatives, Russia is working on creating a multi-lateral center for uranium enrichment, which can be used by all those who want to develop peaceful nuclear energy, in accordance with the non-proliferation agreement. The US has a similar initiative. It is a big area of cooperation and its importance on the world agenda will grow. And it is significant that the Presidents in the London declaration, made on April 1, emphasised their strong intention to actively develop all these issues.

The conflicts that the world is concerned about, Middle East settlement, Afghanistan, the situation with the Iran nuclear program the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula – these are all questions that we work on together with the Americans. Of course, in our dialogue we also discuss the post-Soviet space, we talk about the necessity to conduct all affairs transparently in this space, it is important to get rid of all hidden agendas, and consider the legitimate interests of all others, first of all the interests of the states included in the space, while defending your own interests.

We cannot try to make them face the false choice – you are either with us or you are against us, otherwise this will lead to a struggle for spheres of influence. No one wants this struggle, but sometimes it is attributed by some to Russian foreign policy. We do not deal with spheres of influence, we develop equal, mutually beneficial relations with everyone who is ready for it.

M.S.: In relation to this, one of Russia’s major concerns in Russian-American relations has recently been the plans to deploy anti-missile defences in Europe. There has been much talk about it. Now Washington drops hints, and many times Washington has written about it, that, apparently they are ready to say no to these plans in exchange for Russia’s support on the Iran problem, including stricter sanctions. Do you think such an exchange is possible?

S.L.: You know political exchanges probably have the right to exist. But we don’t want to build our whole foreign policy on the basis of exchanges. We want something else. We want all of our partners to respect our interests and consider these interests when taking actions. We in turn are open to treat our partners’ interests the same way. Of course this means that those interests should be legitimate, that they have to be realized by transparent and open methods, without double standards.

As far as anti-missile defense is concerned, I would stress the importance of Medvedev and Obama’s statement, made on April 1, where they said that both Russian and American governments will consider the connection between strategic offensive and defensive weapons. The same connection that has always been the basis for the agreement between Moscow and Washington on strategic stability and which was destroyed, when the US quit the anti-missile defense agreement. I think it is a very positive signal that the US understands the importance of this connection and without taking this connection into account, it will be hard to move towards creating a new agreement, which will replace the START agreement.

As far as Iran is concerned, Iran is a separate problem, and here we have first of all to make sure that the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is not violated, and that is the main goal of the three European countries – France, Germany and Great Britain – along with Russia, China and USA, that put all efforts into initiating talks with Iran. These six countries presented their ideas, their extended proposals to be considered by Iran. These proposals have what I call positive stimuli, they have to do with the perspective for developing economic ties with Iran, and removing those sanctions different states have introduced against this country.

This also has to do with perspectives for developing peaceful nuclear energy in Iran. This also has to do with including Iran on an equal basis in consideration of all regional problems along with other countries in the region. We are talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East settlement, because we can’t underestimate Iran’s influence in these issues. But all these stimuli are proposed as part of the final package, the package that will have to be agreed on, according to the results of the talks. We want to start these talks.

And Iran has, to first of all, convince all of us that its nuclear program is of a peaceful nature. There is no evidence that this program has a military dimension, but some countries and the IAEA have questions that Iran needs to give clear answers to. So our proposal to start talks aims to clarify these issues and create a final package. I would like to note with satisfaction that yesterday the deputy foreign ministers of the six mentioned countries met in London and confirmed this.

The new important thing in this whole situation was the USA’s readiness to develop the policy, proposed by President Obama. The previous administration, even though participating in developing proposals for Iran, tried to stay away from the talks themselves, reserving the right to start participating in talks at the final stage. The fact that Obama’s administration is ready to get involved in these talks from the first day and discuss all the issues, that I mentioned, is a very positive step. I hope this will allow us all to be more efficient in finding urgent solutions to the Iran nuclear problem.

A.B.: Now one more country in that region – Afghanistan. The U.S. and other NATO countries are concerned about what’s happening there. They are planning to increase their contingent and become more active there. What does Russia think about that, and what is our role in that?

S.L.: We have no differences in principle on Afghanistan with other countries who are dealing with it. We have given our support to the UN Security Council resolution, which has sanctioned the anti-terrorist coalition operations there. We continue to support the ongoing work of international security forces under the mandate of the United Nations. We have also allowed the transit of cargo through our territory. Moreover, we have a bilateral agreement with France, Germany and Spain that these countries can direct military cargo and personnel to Afghanistan through our territory under a UN mandate.

We have also been trying to bring to attention the fact that it’s impossible to solve the Afghan problem by force alone. Of course proportional force should be used against terrorists. But I would like to emphasize the fact that it should be proportional, and not affect the local population. Right now the number of civil casualties after coalition operations is huge, and President Karzai is concerned about that as well. So force must be used very carefully and must be well –targeted.

Another issue is that Afghanistan must form its own political system. This is hard, because it’s never had a centralized government. Afghanistan is starting a presidential campaign, and next year it will hold a parliamentary election. And a lot depends on whether or not the central authorities will be able to find the right balance of interests with the provinces. Especially considering the multiple ethnicities living on that territory – none of them should become vulnerable, or misrepresented in the government.

This was one of the conclusions of a recent conference in Moscow on Afghanistan, where many organizations and countries were represented including – NATO, the EU, CIS, SCO, OSCE, CSTO, G-8 countries, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

Another aspect emphasized during that conference is to increase the regional factor. What that means is Afghanistan’s neighbors are more familiar with the situation there and should take part in the negotiation and solution process. And this was voiced and agreed on both in Moscow and in the Hague. So it’s in all of our interests to make sure there are no more threats coming out of that country. And that it becomes a territory of peace, and Afghans themselves determine how they live on that territory.

A.B.: Let’s hope that it goes this way. There's another problem everybody, the whole world in fact, has been concerned about for almost a year now – the financial crisis. There's been a great deal of speculation – some say a way out of such crises is war, others say the crisis will result in a whole new world order, while there are also those who say the crisis reflects a change in the world's fundamental centres of power, in the world's hierarchy etc. What do you think – will this financial crisis bring any global political changes, any international and political difficulties or challenges, or will it be limited to just the financial sphere?

S.L.: I see no reason why the current crisis should cause a war. It reminds me of the Great Depression which was followed by a decline in international economic and financial interaction. Go-it-alone tendencies and processes prevailed and it ended up with World War II. I believe it's this analogy people are citing. I see no conditions for that scenario to repeat itself.

But it goes without saying that the crisis will not leave the world system unchanged – I first of all mean the world's financial and economic system. It is impossible to go on supporting this system relying on institutions established more than 60 years ago, institutions which reflected the balance of power in the world then, and which as of now are not fully, or in fact, do not at all, take into account the new situation. And the new situation is characterised by the appearance of powerful new centres of economic growth, powerful new financial centres. And of course with economic and financial power comes political influence.

That is why the so-called new centres and their appearance reflects the objective process of the formation of a multi-polar world. Of course they want their new role in the world to be reflected in the structures whose duty is to manage the world's financial and economic processes.

And it's not by chance that Russia's initiatives at the G20 summit in London which were promoted by the Russian President included the necessity to not only resolve current issues but also keep in mind future tasks. That is, to reform the world's financial system to make it more transparent, to make it reflect the real division of power in the global financial and economic system to a greater extent. And we also need to see to it that decisions in it are taken in a democratic way. I have no doubts that this dialogue is only starting. Of course it will take some time. But I am confident there's no stopping this process.

M.S.: Iraq. Before the war there started, Russia warned of its consequences. The whole world has been witnessing these consequences for a long time now. Russia is writing off Iraq's debt. It has been said quite a number times that it could allow Russia to return to the country's energy market. Do we believe that order will soon be restored in Iraq and when? And do we believe that we could go back to the contracts signed under Saddam Hussein?

S.L.: We did warn of the consequences but we are far from gloating over our gloomy predictions coming true. What happened, happened. It was a mistake – we have not changed our assessments. But today we all have a situation which negatively impacts the state of affairs in the region and which needs to be fixed by any means. It requires joint effort. We contribute as much as we can. Our companies are working to restore energy and other infrastructures in Iraq. They by the way worked in most troubled times and continue doing so.

Nevertheless I have to say that in recent times the situation in Iraq is stabilising which can be largely credited to the government of Prime Minister Maliki who is coming to Russia on a visit today, April 9. He has not only proclaimed the policy we have been advocating for many years, a policy of national reconciliation, but unlike his predecessors also tries to implement it. You know that the basic groups in Iraq are Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. After the coalition and U.S. forces entered Iraq, Sunnis found themselves absolutely discriminated against. And only now, not long ago, everybody has come to understand it.

Efforts are being made to build accord between nationalities, to reconcile them and to secure each ethnic, religious and political group in Iraq a good place in the country's political life. There are a lot of problems. There's an unfinished argument over the constitution, an argument over the law on oil regarding distribution of profits from this natural resource between different groups, but approaches are being agreed – we actively support the efforts and wish our Iraqi colleagues success in resolving these issues. We are not interested in instability in Iraq, we do not want anyone to impinge on Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity and we consider it important to support any efforts to strengthen Iraq's national identity.

In terms of the Economy none of our companies have ceased to work in Iraq, yes, there were contracts that were signed in the last couple of years, contracts whose fates have not yet been decided. Meetings to discuss these contracts do not lie in the near future; we have been negotiating with the Iraqi government for some time now. I believe that as a result of the meetings with Prime Minister Maliki, a consensus will be reached in order to materialize, in practice, our mutual interest, which are constantly being confirmed in Baghdad, on the formation of a strong foundation for economic partnership.

S.M.: Mr. Lavrov, one more problematic zone, one more conflict, in the resolution of which Russia is playing an active role over a long period of time is the regulation of the Middle East. Two years ago an announcement was made on the necessity of a conference, in Moscow, to discuss the regulation of the Middle East. Last week Mahmood Abbas said that such a conference will take place immediately, either today or tomorrow. Of course it’s a bit of an exaggeration but should this conference be anticipated before July this year? When will the MFA be able to announce a realistic date when this conference will take place? More importantly what do you expect from this conference?

S.L.: I will start with the last question, in terms of expectations. Expectations are present in this situation, of course, but more importantly there is a strong necessity to run this forum in different conditions than the negotiation process that was started at the conference in Annapolis in September of last year. There were various reasons for that, outbreaks of violence on the territories of Israel, elections in Israel, then there was the long period of time during which the formation of the Israeli government took place. In turn we came to a halt, ‘a vacuum of negotiations’, the situation can not go on like this much longer.

It is not just Russia’s position, it is the position of all the international allies of Russia such as the European Union, UN, and The United States to resume talks between Israel and the Palestine, to start this not from a blank slate but with consideration of those arrangements and understandings that have been achieved up to this day. We do not want those negotiations, that took place these last couple of months between Mahmood Abbas and the ex premier of Israel, Ehud Olmert, in which firm directions in the process of negotiations took place, to be forgotten.

In terms of the conference in Moscow, we want it to establish a fixed beginning for negotiations. We have been waiting for the Israeli government to be formed; now that it has been formed we are working to set dates, not only in accordance with the Palestinians and the Israelis, as the main players but in accordance with the Syrians and Lebanese. Everyone understands that in order to strengthen the position of the world community at the Moscow conference, final regulation can only materialize if the community works as a whole. Besides the Palestinian view, there’s also the Syrian and Lebanese view, this is necessary to record.

Negotiations with Israel have already taken place to establish contact in questions of carrying out the Moscow conference. I have spoken to the minister of foreign affairs Liebermann, following the conference that took place between the Russian President Medvedev and the current Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu; we have felt readiness from the Israeli side to look over these issues so I hope that you will hear this news very soon.

S.M.: One more conflict zone much closer to the Russian borders, the situation in Moldova, the worsening of relations between Romania and Moldova. You have discussed in great detail your worries and the position of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this subject. What I want to ask is, is it legitimate to assume from judging by the situation in Moldova, that the scenarios of colored revolutions, often seen in Post USSR areas, have ceased to work? If yes then why, your prognosis.

S.L.: This question is better suited for a political scientist. It is obvious that the whole genre of colored revolutions cannot be supported as a method which is aimed at achieving political aims, through the use of non legitimate methods. I do not want to name anyone specific, but most of the time when colored revolutions took place, if you just take and analyze every situation, no peace was accomplished. The problems are much more acute in those countries that allowed such revolutions than in the countries that were able to avoid such scenarios in their territory. This is my own personal view.

What happened in Moldova does not bear much resemblance to previously witnessed colored revolutions when the verdicts of two or more countries were used to debate the outcomes of an election. Nobody here has been debating the elections, the Euro Parliaments, Euro Assembly, and all other world organisations admitted that the elections were legitimate, were well organized, and followed global standards.

Nevertheless, whatever happened, happened and I consider it to be vandalism, it's negligence and a violation of the symbols of power of any state – the presidents' administration, the house of parliament. I don't know why parliamentary structures in Europe – at least I haven heard of it – don't express their attitude on what happened.

There's another aspect of the problem which for a very long time we had been trying not to make public – the fact that until now Moldova has no treaty on its borders with Romania. It's a well known fact in the EU and i think it's in the union's interests to follow the existing regulations – which prescribe that every member of the union has no problems, in particular problems that can be solved by signing an agreement on borders.

And of course, the mottoes and the flags being waving yesterday and two days ago in Chisinau worried us a lot as they uniquely displayed that the demonstrators – i would call them vandals – were obsessed with the idea of demolishing Moldavian nationhood. We attracted the attention of the EU to this and we were assured that they took it very seriously, and we hope that the EU and the Romanian government, which has condemned the violence will take measures to prevent any situations in which Romanian flags and slogans are used as a cover to disrupt Moldova's federal status.

S.M.: Will talks between Chisinau and Tiraspol positively change the situation in Moldova?

S.L.: I think what has happened was aimed at worsening conditions for reaching an agreement, because long ago – and I think very fairly – Transdniestr raised question about living in the united state of Moldova saying they agreed to it on condition the country keeps its identity.

M.S.: Mr. Lavrov, as I've mentioned, on our website our viewers have been leaving questions for you for almost a week, we received several hundred questions from 49 countries and we picked one and the others will be passed to your colleagues. Andy Roddik from Glasgow – a tennis player? – I believe it's his nickname… He's asking you whether you still think that the United States is as powerful as it was 20 years ago or has Russia begun recognizing China and India and/or the European Union as an equally important and powerful state?

S.L.: I think that this question contains the answer. According to Russia's foreign policy we implement the principle of a multi – vector which means that we want equal rights and mutual benefit with any state that is ready for this – and in the first place we talk about the biggest partners and of course about our neighbors. China, India, and Brazil together with Russia are called BRIC and within the framework of this group not only external political contacts are realized, but also contacts concerning the finance ministry, other economic departments – and there's space to realize our mutual interests.

Without a doubt, the United States is Russia's most important partner, the EU is our biggest trade and economic partner and of course for global stability it is vital that all the centres of economic expansion interact with each other. So talking about the United States – we can say that even if someone has an illusion that one state can resolve all problems on its own – now these people have disappeared. And the United States is one of the leading states – well it's the most powerful state.

But to settle not just international problems but also the problems that it's facing, America needs to cooperate more and more with other states. And this kind of cooperation – and it also concerns the question about the international financial system – may be achieved only on an equal basis coming to a truly democratic world order. You know, at the end of the 70ies when Kissinger wrote his book called "diplomacy" he mentioned the US should come to terms with the Idea that one state can’t control the world and they need to aim at becoming the first among equals and this recommendation is very relevant now.

A.B.: As we can see our viewers, readers and listeners have many questions for you, and you personally caused a lot of interest. So let me ask you a private question. You write poems, have a lot of different hobbies and so my question is – how do you manage to find time for all this?

S.L.: I don't manage to find time. Not a single line for the last 5 years – have you got any spare time at all? – well. I don't analyze myself, but I have to spend lots of time reading different papers including our position papers, the position papers of our partners – that's what Soviet and Russian diplomatic schools teach – to enter into details – and I think it's a very important trait of a modern Russian diplomat. Well not all of these papers concern current work – there are a lot of analytical papers, we've been working a lot on the external policy of the Russian federation with the Foreign ministry and scientific council to get a scientific input in the concept.

We also had consultations with our political science centres with the university of modern development, with the External Defence Policy Council. We have also consulted the Business Council that works under the Foreign Ministry. It is during such meetings, as well as during meetings with non-governmental organizations that we conduct regularly – I have met six times with Russian NGOs, and in the meantime we have a special working group for these contacts with Russian non-governmental organizations – during these meetings I get a chance to get a sense of what others think, to see what civil society thinks, to hear some hints. We think over those hints afterwards. Sometimes they make us think about something we haven’t thought before.

So I couldn’t draw the line between our daily work and my analytical reflection on how to build our foreign policy in the long run. As I said the results are in the concept and many other documents, but we are not the ones to judge.

A.B.: And in conclusion, Mr. Lavrov, this is my request, as was already mentioned in the beginning, we are hoping that our meetings will happen regularly. Could we suggest to viewers, listeners and readers to start preparing questions for the next meeting like this?

S.L.: Ms. Mironyuk was talking about a period of 2-3 months. This sounds realistic.