Russian foreign minister’s statements after talks with Tunisian counterpart

Text of report "Comments and answers of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia S.V. Lavrov to questions from the mass media during a joint press conference after negotiations with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tunisia R. Abdessalem, Moscow. 28 June 2012" in English by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 2 July

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

We have conducted negotiations during which the Russian side reiterated its support for ongoing reforms in Tunisia, our mutual willingness both in bilateral terms and within margins of Dovil partnership to assist in these reforms. Both parties renewed our focus on deepening the traditional friendly relations between Russia and Tunisia.

Tunisia traditionally has consistently ranked among the leading trade partners of Russia in the Arab world. Last year, bilateral trade exceeded 1 billion 260 million US dollars. We agreed to prepare and place before the end of this year regular meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission, during which we will consider ways to further develop our cooperation in various fields and the diversity of it. We also agreed to accelerate the preparation of a certain number of intergovernmental agreements, including that on the mutual protection of investments, aircraft communication, as well as on cooperation in tourism, in which we are particularly interested in, as Russians should be: more and more of our citizens are visiting Tunisia – just for the first half of this year the number of our tourists in Tunisia increased to 50 per cent.

Both our countries share identical positions on the fundamental problems of the modern world. We advocate that international relations should be democratic, multi-polar based, and relied on the rule of international law. The Russian Federation and Tunisia support the strengthening of UN’s central role, within which our delegations closely cooperate.

Of course, in the centre of our discussions on international issues the situation in the Middle East and North Africa was reviewed. We reaffirmed our support for the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of the region, their basic desires for a better life, for democratic reforms in the interests of all population groups, as well as the need to under any circumstances prevent any forms of sectarian strife which might accompany these reforms. We agree that decisions concerning the fate of their country are up to the people themselves to make, without any outside interference. At the same time, the underlying principle should be the need to respect and preserve the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country. All these principles are fully applicable to the tasks facing the Syrian people. We support changes that would go in the direction of the national agreement on all matters of urgent and somewhat overripe reforms.

We have similar with Tunisia approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian and the whole Arab-Israeli settlement. We consider it necessary as soon as possible to overcome the impasse in the negotiations and to resume a meaningful Israeli-Palestinian dialogue on all the issues, in accordance with the agreements reached and decisions taken within the margins of the UN.

Both Russian Federation and Tunisia are in favour of purely peaceful, political and diplomatic settlement of the situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme. We agree that any military scenario would be a disaster for this vast region.

Russia highly appreciates the balanced and responsible foreign policy followed by Tunisia. We welcome the initiative proposed by the Tunisian leadership, particularly in relation to the revitalization of the Arab Maghreb Union.

Question: The draft plan of the UN/LAS Special Envoy Kofi Annan which will be presented in Geneva on 30 June suggests the establishment of transitional government in Syria composed of representatives of the opposition and the current Syrian government. The US and its allies see this as a direct reference to the removal of B. Al-Asad. How can you comment on that? Does the Russian side eliminate the possibility of changing the leadership in Syria in the implementation of the plan of UN/LAS Special Envoy?

S.V Lavrov: First of all, I would say that there are no accepted projects yet. Work on the possible outcome is continuing. Tomorrow, on 29 June, experts meet in Geneva. The fact that the press "leaked" some of the formulas and ideas that are being proposed in the draft of a possible outcome of some invited countries seems to me as an unfair tactic in diplomacy.

It is quite obvious that some sort of a transition period in order to overcome the Syrian crisis and the final establishment of a stable acceptable rules and regulations that would suit all of the Syrian people will be required. But the question about the content of such period, and its mechanisms should be solved by the Syrian people in the context of a national dialogue between the government and all opposition groups. That’s what we – the international community – have agreed when we backed Kofi Annan’s plan. From this point we must proceed.

The meeting in Geneva is designed to support the plan of UN/LAS Special Envoy, and it should focus on creating the conditions for ending the violence and starting a national public all-Syrian dialogue, not to prejudge its content. External players should not dictate to the Syrians their "recipes". They are, above all, obliged to persuade all the Syrian sides to end the violence, so that under the supervision of international observers as well as under the supervision of the UN the armed forces of both sides were simultaneously withdrawn from the towns and other settlements, and the opposition should refuse to have their irreconcilable approaches and, in accordance with the plan of Annan, should sit down at the negotiating table with the Syrian government. That’s all that external players should do.

We are not able and willing to support any interference from outside and forcing any "recipes" onto Syrian people. That includes the fate of B. Asad which should be decides by Syrian people by the national discussions.

Question: Is the composition of participants is the meeting in Geneva determined yet? Why Iran and Saudi Arabia are excluded from it?

S.V Lavrov: Based on the fundamental vision of the Geneva meeting’s goals, we suggested at the outset these corresponding members: five permanent members of UN Security Council, Syria’s Arab neighbours – Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, the Arab League, the EU and the Organization of Islamic cooperation (OIC). If guided strictly by the interests of the cause, such a structure, in our profound conviction, serves the best. There, on the one hand, are all key external players, on the other – it is compact enough to conduct a serious conversation and find ways to resolve the problem, in contrast, for example, from the "Group of Friends of Syria", which, basically, is a pure propaganda. There are invited up to 150 countries, into that group, and it is clear that this is not the format, where anyone can talk seriously about anything.

But some states, which were to participate in the Geneva meeting, were guided, by my estimation, not by the interests of business, but by considerations on ideological grounds, political conditions and bias. Washington has publicly stated that the USA opposed the participation of Iran. This is the manifestation of "double standards". When Americans had to deal with the safety of their troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, they did not hesitate to initiate contacts with Iran and even agreed on something. Now we are talking about stopping the bloodshed in Syria, and Iran in this situation, along with other countries in the region, is certainly an influential player. I consider it a mistake to leave Iran "overboard" of the Geneva meeting. But unlike some of our partners, we are not capricious people, and in any event, no matter what the final list of invitees will look like, we will go to Geneva, as this meeting provides a chance to combine the approaches of all the external players, so they all could work towards ending the violence and starting a political process. It would be unforgivable not to try to use this chance.

Question: What measures Russia is ready to undertake to prevent any foreign intervention, NATO’s troops including, against Syria?

S. V. Lavrov: I do not think that any member of NATO kept "an appetite" for repeating the Libyan adventure. At least, during our contacts with representatives of NATO and other states we did hear such ideas. However, anonymous calls for an armed invasion of Syria are heard periodically.

Unacceptability of such scenarios is part of our common position with Tunisia on the Syrian crisis. In all circumstances, we explain our approach in public and say that such plans, if anyone pursues them, would have catastrophic consequences. And this is true. Just look at end of the operation in Libya, where now, with the support of the international community, everyone will have a lot of work to ensure the normal functioning of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state. We will support this work. The consequences of the Libyan crisis are manifested in Syria in the context of the ongoing operations of the armed opposition, and in Mali, where the state faces the risk of breaking down into parts. Now representatives of ECOWAS and the international community actively ask for help in restoring the territorial integrity of Mali.

If an intervention against Syria starts, the consequences will be even more profound and affect many of the states. Avoiding such a scenario also depends on you, members of the Media in Russia and abroad. It is important to continue the intentions to strive to show and tell the truth. It is important to avoid "unpretentious" reports, consisting of the slogans about the criminality of the regime and the immediate need for its overthrow. Such statements cause hammering certain ideological stereotypes into the heads of simple folks. It is important to show the facts – as do the channel "Russia-24" and other Russian journalists – that not only one single side there resorts to violence – there are a few. Along with government forces, there are a variety of disparate armed opposition groups, there are terrorists. Governments are required to ensure freedom of speech and the media. This means not to close unwanted channels, as did members of the EU on a number of Syrian Media and members of the Arab League – with reference to the Syrian channels. It also means to absolutely prevent armed attacks on the media. Tragically, these actions become the normal practices for some governments. That is how it was, when NATO Air Forces bombed a Television Centre in Belgrade, when the television station was bombed in Tripoli. The other day, as you know, an armed attack on the state television building in Damascus took place. So far I have not heard strong condemnation of such actions from the western colleagues. This is unfortunate.

The question was short, but my answer was quite extensive.

But, again, in my opinion, the topic deserves it.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Moscow, in English 2 Jul 12

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