It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Russian Federation. We have maintained regular contact. Last year, we met twice – in May during the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi and in July on the sidelines of ASEAN events in Vientiane. Now we are meeting in Moscow, the city of your alma mater.
Today we have a good opportunity to discuss the status of our bilateral relations pursuant to the agreements reached at the top level between our presidents and prime ministers. Additionally, we are interested in exchanging opinions on developing relations between Russia and ASEAN in the context of the agreements reached last year at the summit in Sochi.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation for Laos’ active involvement as a coordinator of the Russia-ASEAN dialogue partnership.
We have held good talks with my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic Saleumxay Kommasith. The discussion was substantive, trusting and productive.
Laos is Russia’s long-standing partner in Southeast Asia. We are bound by years-old ties of friendship and a high level of mutual trust. This is certainly an important asset that helps to strengthen our cooperation in all areas in keeping with the Declaration on Strategic Partnership in the Asia Pacific Region (APR), which our countries signed in 2011.
We have analysed in sufficient detail the implementation of the agreements reached during President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith on the sidelines of the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi in May 2016 and in the course of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s talks with the Laotian leaders at the East Asia Summit in Vientiane in September 2016. We have agreed to take concrete steps to expand our political dialogue as well as trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties.
Yesterday, our Laotian colleague, Foreign Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic Saleumxay Kommasith, held talks at the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly and addressed an audience at his alma mater, the Moscow State University of International Relations. Today he shared his fond memories of the event. We are appreciative of how the graduates of Russian higher educational establishments feel about their universities. We think that these highly important humanitarian and educational ties between our nations should be encouraged and maintained in every possible way.
After our talks today, Mr Kommasith will meet with Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolay Nikiforov, Russian Chair of the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. As co-chairs, they will discuss preparations for the next plenary session of the Intergovernmental Commission scheduled to be held in Moscow in early July. Today, we have discussed issues that could be prepared to good purpose for decision-making at the Intergovernmental Commission’s forthcoming meeting.
We exchanged views on regional and international issues. We have common or largely similar approaches to those. We agreed to step up coordination, above all within the framework of the UN. It is good to note that here we also have something in common. Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith once was the permanent representative of his country to the United Nations, and so was I.
We discussed the situation at multilateral platforms in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR). We share an opinion that an important condition for the development of cooperation in the APR is the strengthening of stability on the basis of a reliable and comprehensive architecture of equal and indivisible security based on the principles of respect for international law, peaceful resolution of disputes, and the non-use of force or the threat of force. We are unanimous in believing that the East Asia Summits are an ideal platform for this dialogue. This forum is held annually and relies on the ASEAN countries’ interaction with their regional and other partners. We confirmed our conviction that all projects to advance security-strengthening schemes and to develop cooperation in the APR are best promoted through the initiatives worked out within ASEAN.
One of the key areas of our joint work is the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership. Laos is coordinating the 2015-2018 ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership. We very much appreciate the efforts that our Lao friends are making in this area. I would especially like to note their significant and useful contribution to the successful organisation of the Russia-ASEAN Summit in Sochi last year. Today we reviewed the implementation of the agreements reached at the Sochi meeting. There has been good progress in a number of areas. We expect to see tangible results in the near future and consolidate them at the next ministerial meetings between Russia and ASEAN.
It seems to me that the talks went well and significantly strengthened the dynamics of our progressive cooperation.
I’d like to thank my colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao People's Democratic Republic Saleumxay Kommasith.
Question: We see that ISIS has been recently losing its positions in Iraq and Syria. Why is the United States building up its forces in Syria now by deploying its multiple launch rocket systems there? At what stage are the agreements on de-escalation zones?
Sergey Lavrov: The military of the Russian Federation is analysing all developments in that country, also taking into account the Russian-US channel on avoiding unintended incidents. This channel may be used to clarify issues that are of interest to either side.
In the general political context I can say the following. According to our information, practically no ISIS units are left in that region. Some experts believe that the deployment of serious weapons that are not very fit for fighting ISIS there reflects a desire to create an additional military group that will prevent the establishment of reliable communication channels between the government and pro-government forces in Syria and their partners in neighbouring Iraq.
Let me repeat that I am quoting experts who know the region and are analysing the situation. There is a view that by doing this the United States is trying to prevent the emergence of some kind of Shia Crescent. Let me repeat once again that I am just citing the opinion of experts. We are still analysing the situation for the time being. If so, it is regrettable that the task of creating a common front for uncompromising struggle against terrorism without double standards will be replaced by an attempt to conduct geopolitical manoeuvres on the basis of abuses and exploiting the religious factor and persisting differences inside Islam. They should be overcome as soon as possible because the Islamic world should be at one with all other countries in fighting the universal threat of terrorism. We will do everything to avoid approaching key issues from the positions of religious preferences and prejudice. These issues are the absolute priority and must override everything else.
Question: Yesterday US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed concern over the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey. What do you think about the reason for the US concern over it?
Sergey Lavrov: I was also surprised to read that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed concern over Russian-Turkish rapprochement. This statement is unclear. Russia and Turkey are neighbours. We are developing bilateral cooperation, having successfully overcome the cooling of relations for reasons that are well known. We are actively cooperating with Turkey, Iran and other countries to settle the Syrian crisis. I do not know what aspect of our rapprochement is causing concern for Mr Tillerson. At any rate, in relations with the Turkish Republic – either bilateral or multilateral – I do not see any aspects that could worry those who are sincerely interested in promoting equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation between all interested countries on the basis of universally accepted norms of international law in the world arena. All we can do is guess, but considering everything we are hearing from Washington these days, this is a thankless job. This comment was totally groundless.
If suddenly the Americans decide to ask us or our Turkish partners a specific question over which they are concerned, we will be ready to answer it. We have nothing to hide. As I have already said, we are developing all aspects of our relations with Turkey transparently and legitimately.
Question: Can you confirm the news of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in an air strike of the Russian Aerospace Forces? If this information is confirmed, how will this affect the situation in the region?
Sergey Lavrov: I heard these reports but for the time being I cannot confirm this information one hundred percent. I must say that all acts to destroy or decapitate terrorist groups have always been presented with a lot of fanfare. But experience shows that later they regroup and return to the fight.
These terrorist groups continue their activities. I am referring to ISIS, al-Qaeda and its numerous incarnations, including Jabhat al-Nusra that still remains a big enigma. Despite all the legal demands regarding Jabhat al-Nusra that has been included, as an al-Qaeda affiliate, in the terrorist lists of the UN Security Council, Russia, the United States and other Western countries, in practical terms we are witnessing the fight being taken to ISIS. We do not see any practical efforts to fight Jabhat al-Nusra and its affiliated structures. In this sense the US-led coalition is behaving exactly as it did under the administration of former president Barack Obama – everything is being done to remove the threat to Jabhat al-Nusra. This is a very alarming issue. We regularly raise it in contacts with our American partners but are not getting any rational answer. And we would like to get one.