Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Interview to the Newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Text of report in English by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 21 September; subheadings added editorially

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Interview to the Newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta; 21 September 2011

Palestinian independence bid

[Question] It is known that at the 66th UN General Assembly session the Palestinians are going to achieve at least partial independence. The obvious implication of this bid is that it is fraught with far-reaching consequences for the entire Middle East. If the Palestinians manage to do so, does this suggest the need to disband the Middle East Quartet and start looking for new formats of mediation?

[Foreign Minister Lavrov] Yes, the Palestinians are going during the session to ask for recognition of the State of Palestine. Most UN members are ready to support this request of theirs. The Palestinians, though, have clearly confirmed that their UN bid is not an alternative to negotiations.

We understand that by going to the UN the Palestinians want to re-emphasize the urgency of the task of achieving a negotiated settlement to the Palestine problem on a universally recognized international legal basis as soon as possible. We support them in this.

We believe that it’s utterly imperative to intensify efforts to establish mutually acceptable conditions for resumption of talks. It would be inappropriate in our view to change the format of mediation in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. This "support mechanism" – the Quartet of Russia, the US, EU and UN – has proved its usefulness. It is accepted and recognized by the parties in conflict, Palestinians and Israelis, as well as all other relevant actors, and the UN Security Council. The main thing is that all participants in the Quartet should act impartially and seek the parties’ compliance with the existing agreements.

Syria

[Question] There is no doubt that Western countries will try to make the situation in Syria a key theme of the 66th UN General Assembly session. It is obvious that Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad cannot find common ground with the opposition, which appears to be ready for a repeat of the Libyan scenario. Is there, in your opinion, any real chance to avoid such a bloody replay?

[Foreign Minister Lavrov] Syria is, as we often repeat, "the cornerstone of Middle Eastern architecture", on which the preservation of peace and security in the Middle East region largely depends. It is therefore not surprising that the situation in Syria will be a major topic for discussion, and Russia, as well as our partners in the BRICS and several other states are no less interested in this debate than Western countries.

The thesis that Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad cannot find common ground with the opposition is not quite correct. Why should this task be entrusted only to one side? We believe that the opposition, too, should bear responsibility for ensuring a peaceful future and prosperity of their country. This, if anything, is its national duty. It’s irresponsible to ignore an invitation to dialogue, to sweep aside the practical, if belated, steps of President al-Assad to reform the legislation on political parties, elections, and local self-government.

The line on [for] boycotting the calls for dialogue in the hope that "the West will help us", as in Libya, will serve no good. It has to be understood that the population of the country is split. One part is demanding an immediate regime change and reforms, while the other prefers the path of incremental change, believing that they should be implemented while maintaining the country’s civil peace and tranquillity.

The optimal way out of the crisis is to establish a political process involving the government and all forces that reject violence as a means of achieving political ends.

There is no predetermination for a repeat of the Libyan or other scenarios in Syria. On the contrary, there is room for peaceful non-violent overcoming of the internal Syrian crisis. To do this, the opposition should not be oriented towards radicalism and intransigence, but to upholding their demands at the negotiating table and looking for a national consensus in the interest of stabilizing the country and achieving coherent progress towards democracy. This is the exact aim behind the draft resolution that Russia together with China has submitted for consideration by UN Security Council members. The alternative to this is a civil war with very negative consequences for both Syria and the entire region and world at large. Everything must be done to prevent such a development.

Arab spring

[Question] The Arab Spring has brought up a lot of new subjects for the participants of the 66th UN General Assembly session. How badly do you think the foreign policy situation has changed in the region and the world as a whole?

[Foreign Minister Lavrov] In light of the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and later in other countries the Middle East and North Africa region has since early 2011 been undergoing a cardinal transformation. What’s happening is in fact a change of regimes and practices that took shape back at the time of gaining independence by the peoples of those countries, the desire of popular masses for greater democracy, higher living standards and welfare, and unhindered access to universal human rights.

In our estimation, these processes won’t be easy and the development of events isn’t going to be straightforward, of which there is already ample evidence. It is undoubted that the changes will have far-reaching consequences, resulting in an entirely different countenance of the region.

We are sympathetic to the aspirations of Arab peoples and their desire to live better and we believe that they themselves can and should determine their own destiny. So we are fundamentally opposed to interference in internal affairs, the imposition from the outside of ready-made development precepts and scenarios. It is important that the concepts of democratic reforms should be generated by the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa themselves with due respect for their civilizational traditions from outside players.

Our fundamental interest is to see the Middle Eastern states stable, prosperous and developing along a democratic path. In the present circumstances the main task of the international community should be to help reforms in the Middle East, the elimination of threats emanating from the region to international stability and security, and the settlement of longstanding conflicts. Russia, given its close historical ties with the region, is ready for such work. We will continue to build our relations with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa based on mutual respect and reciprocally advantageous cooperation. These relations rest on a solid foundation, underpinned by decades of mutual friendly feelings of the peoples, rather than a momentary conjuncture.

UN reform

[Question] For more than a decade, the United Nations has been engaged in a discussion on the reform of this main international body. However, in recent years, this topic has obviously gone into the background amid the global economic crisis. Are key international players, including Russia, preparing to return to the question of UN reform at the current session of the General Assembly?

[Foreign Minister Lavrov] The guidelines for a comprehensive reform of the world body to match the new realities were laid in the Final Document signed by the Heads of State and Government of more than 170 countries at the UN General Assembly in 2005. In furtherance of the initiatives approved by the Heads of State, new bodies were created – the Peace-building Commission, designed to help countries in post-conflict phase, and the Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy was approved, and decisions were made to revitalize the UN General Assembly. Considerable attention is being paid to the reform of administrative management of the Organization.

The UN reform processes continue. However, not all of them, even those with highest priority can be quickly realized, as the UN is composed of 193 sovereign states with their national interests. Innovation should rest on the broadest possible consensus and lead to stronger unity in order to increase the efficiency of the UN, rather than to exacerbation of differences. This fully applies to such important issues as the enlargement of the Security Council.

Reforming the UN Security Council is one of the most important sectors for increasing the efficiency of the world body, its ability to adequately and promptly respond to existing challenges. If slowly, the negotiation process in this regard is nevertheless moving forward. The vast majority of UN members, including Russia, aim to achieve the broadest possible consensus on this issue.

The effectiveness of UN reforms largely depends on an enhanced regional level of global governance, on the potentials and operational capabilities of regional organizations, and their readiness to cooperate with the UN and among themselves. The CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] has been consistently supportive of this posture. Its members assume as they create their own peacekeeping forces that these could be used in UN peacekeeping operations in various regions. Well-known is the CSTO’s long-standing proposal to NATO on forging practical cooperation, in particular, in combating the Afghan threat of drugs.

The 66th session of the General Assembly, pursuant to UNGA resolution 65/94, will discuss the UN’s role in global governance, with emphasis on the economic component and the problems of development assistance. The main purpose of the upcoming debate is to create a unifying agenda and reach consensus on the main thrusts of the reform of the socioeconomic sector of the UN based on a weighted analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of existing mechanisms for regulating global economic processes.

At this stage the priority for the social and economic sector reform is to strengthen the United Nations Economic and Social Council, this main intergovernmental body for the systematic and comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of progress in implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals.

One of the main issues on the agenda of the UN General Assembly is the reform of the Organization’s management, which aims to improve the efficiency of the UN Secretariat, strengthen accountability and increase the transparency in its activities, as well as improve the financial and budgetary system of the UN in order to concentrate available resources on priority areas and achieve concrete results.

Russia actively participates in the UN reform processes in all areas, and promotes substantive proposals aimed at strengthening the central role and increasing the effectiveness of the structures and mechanisms of the world body.

Russia’s "initiatives" at UN General Assembly session

[Question] With what initiatives is the Russian delegation led by you going to the 66th session of the UN General Assembly?

[Foreign Minister Lavrov] On the traditional issues of transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities we plan to consolidate the accords reached at the last session to establish a Group of Governmental Experts and to focus its work on the preparation of practical recommendations.

On the subject of international information security (IIS) the centrepiece of our efforts is to suppress the use of information and communication technologies for criminal, terrorist and military-political purposes, as well as interference in the internal affairs of states. Last year the General Assembly approved our initiative to create a Group of Governmental Experts to study existing and potential information security threats. At this session we propose to specify the group’s mandate by including the rules of responsible behaviour of states, and confidence-building measures in the information space. In this regard, we have a joint position elaborated by the SCO member states, which have sent to the Secretary General and all members of the UN a collective document on the content of these rules.

In line with our consistent efforts to counter attempts at revising the results of World War II, we will once again introduce a draft resolution on the inadmissibility of pandering to contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia.

NATO and the UN

[Question] It’s no secret that NATO is increasingly trying to replace the UN. You are going to raise this issue during your visit to New York?

[Foreign Minister Lavrov] NATO, or rather, its individual representatives, tried to replace the UN since the 1990s until the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Germany and France did not support their allies in the bloc. The North Atlantic Organization was faced with the fact that the world community does not recognize the legitimacy of its actions without a decision of the UN Security Council. So, no matter how hard some politicians try to endow NATO with global functions, it won’t be able to replace the UN. I think reasonable people in NATO countries understand that perfectly well.

In recent years, NATO has been learning to "play by the rules" set by the UN. In 2008, the joint declaration was signed on cooperation between the secretariats of the two organizations, and commitment to international law is written down in the new strategic concept of the alliance. At the same time, it is crucial that this commitment should not remain on paper, but be manifested in individual and collective actions of the NATO members. In New York, of course, there will be talk about how the NATO-led coalition was implementing the UN Security Council resolutions on Libya and about the compliance of those actions with the mandate issued by the Security Council, especially with regard to protection of the civilian population. Here we have many questions to NATO.

It should be noted that the UN has in recent years been actively expanding its range of regional partners, and involving them in its overall network of "entities responsible" for the situation in their regions. With the growing demand for effective "division of labour" between the UN and regional associations, the leading role of the Security Council in maintaining international peace and security, particularly authorizing and supervising operations envisioning the use of force, remains immutable, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

[Dated] 21 September 2011

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Moscow, in English 21 Sep 11

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