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updated 12:48 PM UTC, Apr 26, 2017

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem, Moscow, June 29, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are happy to welcome the delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic led by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem to Moscow.

This morning we held substantive talks. We have just returned from the Kremlin, where Minister Muallem was received by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. Naturally, attention was focused on the need to step up efforts to overcome the Syrian crisis. As President Putin pointed out, an objective analysis of the current situation and numerous contacts with countries of the region, including Syria’s closest neighbours Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, reveal growing concern both in the region and beyond over the terrorist activities of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and other radical groups practicing violent extremism.

We are convinced – as President Putin has called for – that all countries of the region should put aside the difference they have always had and, in all probability, will continue to have on certain matters, and concentrate instead on fighting our common threat – terrorism.

That would mark a very important next step towards a political consensus, following the statement adopted by the Group of Eight two years ago, in June 2013, when during its summit in Northern Ireland it urged the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition to team up against terrorists and drive them out of the country. This objective remains as relevant as ever, but considering the scale of the activities of ISIS and its accomplices, efforts by Syrians alone are not enough. That’s why we are calling on all countries of the region to coordinate their actions in combating this horrible threat. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we are postponing the other tasks stipulated by the Geneva Communiqué of June 30, 2012, above all the need to establish a political dialogue led by Syrians themselves with a view to promoting agreements that reflect the common accord between all the Syrian groups.

In the past two years, Russia has invariably advocated for the implementation of the Geneva Communique. This central document was endorsed by the UN Security Council upon our initiative, although not immediately, as at first our Western partners were reluctant to do so. Subsequently, we tried to contribute to the preparations for the resumption of the negotiating process. We held two meetings in Moscow, which allowed the Syrian Government and different opposition groups that were oriented towards a constructive dialogue to accommodate general principles aimed at preserving Syria as a sovereign, territorially integral and independent state that would ensure the rights of all ethnic, religious and other groups.

We coordinated our efforts with other countries, such as Egypt, which were also willing to facilitate the formation of conditions for the resumption of official talks on the Syrian settlement.

The two Moscow meetings produced a package of principles. We would like to continue helping, primarily the Syrians, specify the ideas and approaches set forth in these principles. To facilitate this process and prepare solid ground for the resumption of talks, we are prepared to consider the opportunity to host a third series of consultations in Moscow. We discussed this today as well with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

All of these steps should help Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, who is involved in intensive consultations, to lay the foundation for the negotiating process that can only be comprehensive and involve all Syrian groups, without exception.

As I said, the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012 is a firm foundation for these efforts, although obviously this problem required enhanced attention, considering the unprecedented growth of the terrorist threat. We hope that Mr Mistura will do this.

Let me emphasise again that the task of the international community, including the neighbours of Syria, European countries, Russia, the United States and the UN is not to impose something on the Syrians, but to create the conditions for inclusive dialogue whereby they would be able to reach a consensus among themselves.

Today we also discussed conditions of bilateral relations — in part, the implementation of the agreements reached last October during a regular session of the Inter-Governmental Trade and Economic Commission.

Russia – as President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed today – will continue supporting Syrians and their leaders in the efforts to resolve socio-economic issues during the current crisis and build up their defences for countering the terrorist threat.

We are pleased with the open and traditionally friendly nature of our meetings today and will continue supporting Syrians during this time of trial.

Question (to both ministers): Contacts at different levels are taking place in the region; in part, Syria on the backdrop of the mounting terrorist threat. Are we entering a new phase of the Syrian settlement? What about potential contacts between the Syrian leaders and their counterparts in regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey?

Sergey Lavrov: Let historians use the notions of a “new phase,” or a “new stage” when they describe what is happening. We are focused on practical policy, which requires that we should suspend as soon as possible everything that does not concern the anti-terrorist struggle and concentrate our common efforts on countering ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other similar groups. As I said, today we have a bit more objective conditions for this because all countries of the region – and not only them – realise the scale of the threat. ISIS is spilling into Afghanistan and looking at Central Asia. As many testimonies show, acts of terror in Europe are also directly linked with ISIS. Therefore, the common awareness of global danger should prevail over individual geopolitical schemes and unilateral goals. Differences may be settled by way of dialogue but it is difficult to hold a dialogue on disputable issues when the existence of these states is threatened by terrorists who want to turn them into their caliphate. As you know, this goal has been proclaimed and is shared by many extremist groups from Pakistan to Nigeria.

So, let’s talk about a “new stage” later; now we want to continue our meticulous efforts on reaching an accord. Maybe there will not be a coalition in the classic meaning of this word, but it is absolutely necessary to coordinate action with all of the fighters against the terrorist threat.

Question: Russia’s political efforts to settle the Syrian crisis make it clear that the efficiency of Geneva-3 will be jeopardised without a third Moscow meeting. What practical steps can be made in this area, especially considering the sharp growth in terrorist activities in the north and south of Syria due in part to the financial support and arms supplies by neighbouring countries?

Sergey Lavrov: I would be so adamant as to say that Geneva-3 will come under threat without Moscow-3. The venue of consultations does not matter at all. The main thing is to draw conclusions from the failure of Geneva-2. It failed because our Western partners and some regional countries placed their bets on one group alone, notably the so-called National Coalition. It was proclaimed (by the Arab League among others) to be the only lawful representative of the entire Syrian people. They ignored numerous opposition groups that occupied patriotic rather than aggressive positions and advocated political settlement. It is important for us to redress this mistake and I think that we are doing this – opposition groups are beginning to unite as the result of two Moscow meetings, a meeting in Cairo and the efforts of several other countries.

The success of the Moscow-2 meeting in April was that its participants – representatives of the Syrian Government and the majority of opposition groups – agreed on a document that spells out the principles for preserving and developing the Syrian state in the interests of all of the ethnic and religious communities that have lived in Syria for centuries and even millennia. As my colleague and friend, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, said, the document is not specific enough – it is necessary to specify many provisions that are formulated in its principles. We would like to be helpful but only Syrians can do this. Russia believes that opposition groups that did not come to Moscow but were present in Cairo should be involved in the work in these principles. Russia and Egypt are active enough in coordinating their actions in the hope that eventually all opposition groups will be represented at the talks with the Syrian Government based on the Geneva Communique. Let me emphasise again that this document provides for the need to reach a consensus on the way to live in a common state.

As for external players, they should avoid any action that does not facilitate the formation of these conditions and political settlement. All statements about the regime’s replacement harbor high risks. They contradict the Geneva Communique and, regrettably, play into the hands of extremists, which all of us would like to avoid.

Let me repeat that now we have the grounds to say that the former assessments are subject to change, although certain inertia will probably still be there. Russia would like to help – at the current meeting as well – external players realise that the main threat that goes far beyond unilateral political projects emanates from terrorism.

I would like to emphasise again that this is not today’s improvisation. Since the start of the so-called Arab Spring, we have consistently stated during all of our contacts with our partners that it is necessary to stop ignoring the enormous threat emanating from violent extremism. We are stating that it is dangerous to flirt with radicals and extremists for the sake of short-term opportunistic objectives. There are plenty of examples in history when such flirtations had grievous consequences and fired back as a deadly and bloody boomerang.

Let me recall that last week President Vladimir Putin discussed this issue with US President Barrack Obama over the phone, emphasising that the prevention of ISIS’s extremist plans falls within the common interests of Russia, the United States and all other countries. The Russian and American presidents instructed Secretary of State John Kerry and me to immediately hold a meeting on sharing opinions on the best ways to pool the efforts of our two countries and regional states. Taking due account of today’s talks, our delegations will head for Vienna where a meeting with Kerry is planned for tomorrow. We will inform you in detail about the course of these talks.

Sergey Lavrov (adds after Wallid Muallem’s comment): Walid, I will tell you as your friend that we will deal with practical issues rather than rhetoric. We will work for the adoption of practical common actions. We can engage in rhetoric when we overcome terrorism.

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