Question (in English): After your meeting with Secretary Tillerson, how would you evaluate the relationship with the United States? And has Russia given up on hopes of a significant improvement under the Trump administration?
Sergey Lavrov (in English): The relations are at a very difficult and a very low point, which is the legacy of the Obama administration. We certainly noted what President Trump was saying when he was running for president about the relations with Russia and what he continues to say. Basically, that he wants to have good relations with Russia, understanding that this would be in the American interests and the interests of solving quite a number of important and most acute world problems. And what I feel talking to Rex Tillerson is that this is the position of the administration. They are not happy with the current state of relations, and we are not happy at all. And I believe that the understanding is that we have to accept the reality which was created, as I said, by the spiral of unfriendly steps started by the Obama administration, but this reality is with us. And being responsible people, I believe the Russian Government and the US administration should exercise this responsibility in addressing the bilateral links as well as international issues. We are not yet at a point where this would become a sustained trend but understanding of the need to move in this direction is present, in my opinion.
Question: You had two meetings with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right after you arrived in New York and today. Are the parties considering a possible meeting at the top level in the near future, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, in order to move our relations forward from the point you mentioned?
Sergey Lavrov: The presidents met, as you know, in Hamburg, on the sidelines of the G20 summit. They will have another opportunity to meet if both presidents attend the APEC Leaders’ Meeting in early November in Da Nang, Vietnam.
I am confident that if both leaders are in the same place at the same time, it will be quite useful to have such a meeting and see where we can progress at the foreign ministerial level and in the communication between our deputies. The dialogue continues; it is not an easy one and focuses on bilateral issues that were reviewed by our deputies. It also concerns strategic stability. We met in Helsinki where both parties sent their interdepartmental delegations involving the military and representatives of security services. There are certain problems in this area too that need to be addressed.
Question (in English): Do you feel that the tit-for-tat diplomatic actions are over for now? I am referring to the withdrawal of diplomats.
Sergey Lavrov (in English): We waited very long with our tit in response to Obama’s tat. Well, I think I answered the question about what the mood on both sides is and being serious people and responsible people – and I feel Rex Tillerson is one of them – I hope that we can draw conclusions from where we are now and understand where we want to be.
Question: The issues of Syria, North Korea and the peacemaking mission in Donbass will be discussed during the session. In which areas do you expect to make the biggest progress and maybe even a breakthrough?
Sergey Lavrov: I never have any expectations. All you do every day when there are tasks to solve (and we have them every day, sometimes more than one) is start solving them. You explain your stance, persuade your partners if it concerns developing a resolution. And this is how you progress.
Of course, we want to settle the Ukrainian crisis. But this depends more on the Ukrainian administration rather than on us. You just need to read the Minsk Agreements and this becomes clear.
We want to reach a settlement in Syria and are working hard on this, including combating terrorism and creating conditions to relieve humanitarian problems, achieve reconciliation and establish a national dialogue between the government and the opposition – and eventually, a political settlement that will reflect the interests and hopes of all Syrians.
The same goes for the other areas, be it the conflict in Yemen, the situation in Iraq or the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula. If we say that by the end of the session we will achieve results on this or that issue that we are discussing, this would simply make us slack off.
We need to tackle real problems and conduct negotiations. Each of these conflicts is very complicated, and we must think about what can be done today. We will make plans as the situation in each of these areas is clarified.
Question (in English): What is your opinion of President Trump’s speech at the UN General Assembly, particularly, his statement that the US stands ready to totally destroy North Korea?
Sergey Lavrov (in English): We heard the statements from President Trump about North Korea in the same vein many times. We do not doubt that the United States has the capacity to do something very destructive.
But I paid attention to another part of the president’s speech when he said that he respects sovereignty and equality in international affairs, that the United States wants to lead by example and not otherwise, and that the US would not impose its way of life on others and would accept the diversity of the nations, cultures and civilisations. I think it’s a very welcome statement which we haven’t heard from the American leaders for a very long time.
Question (in English): We understand that US Defence Secretary James Mattis said in an interview that the United States would defend Sweden if it came under attack even though Sweden is not a member of NATO.
Sergey Lavrov (in English): Look, I am not a medical doctor, and I cannot address paranoid statements. I heard that the Swedish government is afraid of something, and the German government is keeping its fingers crossed and is thankful to us that one week before the election we have not yet meddled with the election. There are so many fantasies that it’s a waste of time to pay attention to them. It’s fake, and that’s it.