Question: How would you describe the ongoing UN General Assembly session, in particular, the remarks by US President Donald Trump, who said the United States has the strength to totally destroy North Korea, if it is forced to defend its allies?
Sergey Lavrov: The session began a week ago with organisational matters. The general debate began today. Therefore, we will only be able to comment on it later.
Regarding the statement by US President Donald Trump, it was remarkable. Some of it was probably intended for domestic audiences, in addition to foreign audiences. We have taken note of the clear expression of support for the principles of sovereignty and equality in international affairs, as well as the intention to let the United States shine as an example for everyone to watch, that the United States does not seek to impose its way of life on anyone and that it respects the right of every other sovereign nation to determine its future, or form of government. As I said, it was a remarkable statement. Now we will see whether these words are translated into action.
It has been said that the United States rejects threats to the sovereignty of Ukraine. Regrettably, the previous US administration did not make a similar statement in 2014, when an armed coup overthrew the government in Kiev, and then the agreements that had been signed by EU representatives were trampled. Anyway, it is true that the situation in Ukraine needs to be streamlined. There is a practical instrument for doing this: the Minsk Agreements. We have held talks with our American colleagues today, and I had a second meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. We have reaffirmed our commitment to these agreements that must be implemented in full.
US President Donald Trump also spoke about other countries besides Ukraine, which he described as “rogue regimes,” and he said what the United State could do with regard to North Korea. Our position of principle is that we do not demonise anyone but try to get to the bottom of the problem. Some are concerned about their security, others are focused on developing relations with their neighbours, and still others are dealing with an internal conflict. Condemnation and threats will only antagonise the countries that we want to influence. Therefore, we prefer to work with all concerned parties, to encourage them to enter into a dialogue, both regarding domestic conflicts or problems like the nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsula.
It is particularly alarming that President Trump has reaffirmed the irreconcilable US position and criticised the international action plan that helped settle the Iranian nuclear problem. The foreign ministers of the six countries that worked with Iran to develop the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will meet tomorrow. These six ministers – five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany – and the Foreign Minister of Iran will discuss the implementation of the JCPOA. We will rely on the professional assessment provided by the IAEA, whose director general has said more than once that Iran is faithfully implementing its obligations. We will uphold this document and the consensus, which the international community happily accepted and which has strengthened regional security, as we see it, as well as broader international security.
Question: Today, you held your second meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in three days. What did you discuss at the talks? Did you touch upon tomorrow’s UN Security Council meeting in the context of a possible UN peacekeeping mission to Donbass?
Sergey Lavrov: The talks did not focus on the UN Security Council’s plan to discuss the Ukrainian issue tomorrow. As I see it, the UN Security Council will talk about peacekeeping operations in general and approaches towards UN peacekeeping missions.
We did not touch upon this issue at the talks. There is a great deal to discuss, as these are very important issues. Peacekeeping operations are among the most effective UN tools, regardless of all the drawbacks that are probably typical of any project. There is always room for improvement. In reality, peacekeeping operations continue to get more efficient. The UN Secretary-General has made reports containing a number of interesting ideas, and these ideas are currently being translated into reality.
In any event, we need to discuss ways of making the current peacekeeping operations as effective as possible. The US position is that too much money is being spent on this. I believe that it is possible to cut expenses on a number of peacekeeping operations. I am not talking about curtailing peacekeeping operations but rather conducting more streamlined and cost-effective missions, without any detriment to their mandates.
In addition, Mr Tillerson and I discussed coordination on Syria. Military experts continue their contacts to prevent conflicts during the capture of Raqqa, on the one hand, and Deir ez-Zor, on the other. Military experts continue to coordinate essential steps, so as not to jeopardise the goals of the fight against terror. Naturally, we have confirmed our approach that, while completely recognising the presence of the US-led coalition in Syria, it is an uninvited guest there. We perceive this as a reality, and this can be used to fight terrorism together with the Syrian Army’s operations, with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, which was officially requested by the legitimate Government of Syria.
It is very pragmatic when all the parties to this process strive to focus on the fight against ISIS. Today, we have reminded our American colleagues that Jabhat Al-Nusra (under whatever name) is a terrorist organisation and must therefore be destroyed. Mr Tillerson admitted that this was true. We will hope that this admission will be manifested on the ground.
Second, we have discussed the state of our bilateral relations. We stated that just recently our deputies, Sergey Ryabkov and Thomas Shannon, held a detailed meeting in Helsinki and reviewed the state of bilateral relations. Obviously, we need to mend our relations. We did not launch this downward spiral of reciprocal hostile actions. We are interested in restoring the normal state of bilateral ties. We have agreed to retain the mechanism of regular contacts between Mr Ryabkov and Mr Shannon. They will coordinate their future meetings.
Strategic stability, including the implementation of the START and INF treaties, is another issue. We have some questions for the US side, and the Americans have also expressed their concerns to us. We agreed that it is necessary to review these issues and to eliminate the concerns of military experts together with representatives of foreign policy departments.
We discussed the upcoming work of Middle East mediators. Special representatives of the Big Four will meet in the next few days. Over next couple of days, our representatives dealing with Afghanistan issues will also meet here in New York City. For obvious reasons, the agenda is very packed; Russia and the United States are countries that can have great influence on the situation in various regions. Our conversation today was very business-like, without any attempts to politicise our relations. We focused on the need to behave pragmatically (to my mind, Mr Tillerson also prioritised this aspect) and to search for options making it possible to resolve various issues, including bilateral relations and conflict situations.
Question: The US Senate approved the budget today with an amendment that allows the US to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Does Russia consider it necessary to remain part of the treaty?
Sergey Lavrov: No amendments or Congress are required to withdraw from the treaty. It is stipulated by any agreement, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. As President Vladimir Putin has said, Russia is interested in preserving the treaty, but, of course, providing that our American partners do not violate it. We have suspicions regarding at least three points that the Americans are creating weapons that violate or could violate the responsibilities they undertook under the treaty. We openly expressed our concern; the Americans also have grievances against us but they cannot explain what exactly caused their concern. In any case, the dialogue must be continued. The position of the Congress remains the position of the Congress.
Question: At what stage is the draft resolution on peacekeeping forces in Donbass? Has the work been suspended?
Sergey Lavrov: The draft resolution remains the same as when it was submitted, with an amendment that was made after a telephone conversation between President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. I cannot say that the work has been suspended. When a resolution is submitted, all countries that want to make proposals regarding its text are always invited to do so. We sent this invitation to all of our colleagues, held a discussion, but have not heard anything concrete yet. For obvious reasons, our Ukrainian partners have expressed an abstract disagreement. Ukrainian Deputy Minister George Tuka, who is in charge of these territories, said that it was necessary to send in from 40,000 to 60,000 armed soldiers who, in his view, will simply stamp out opposition in the LPR and DPR and set their own rules there, which will trample the Minsk Agreements.
Our proposal is very clear. Peacemakers will protect the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine only if the mission performs its functions as set out in the Minsk Agreements. Any other use of the peacekeeping mission will mean abandoning the agreements. It seems that this is the goal of the Ukrainian party.