Remarks With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Osobnyak Guesthouse
Moscow, Russia
May 7, 2013


SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Sergey. Thank you very, very much. Thank you for a very generous welcome. It’s been great to be here with you today, and we’ve had very thorough, very cooperative and extensive conversations, and I’m deeply appreciative for the hospitality that the Foreign Minister and the President have both afforded to me today.

I might comment that it was a beautiful day here in Moscow with a good feeling as I sensed people’s anticipation for the celebration of Victory Day. It’s a great honor for me to be here, for me to celebrate the victory of the Great Patriotic War and Russia’s enormous contribution in that war. Many people have never focused on the extraordinary losses, almost 30 million people lost in Russia, and its then-accompanying states. And it’s particularly poignant for us to be here at this point in time when we are considering how to resolve yet another conflict, but Victory Day is a reminder to everybody – or at least it should be – that despite different points of view, committed partners can find a way to accomplish great things together when the world needs it, and this is one of those moments where the Foreign Minister and I, our presidents – President Obama and President Putin – agree that it’s important for leadership to be demonstrated as an alternative to perpetual conflict.

I know that the future of the United States and Russian relations holds great potential because despite our differences, common, very common strategic interests unite us. Let me be very specific. As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I led the efforts in the United States Senate to ratify the START Treaty, which Russia entered into with the United States, with the leadership of your government and President Obama. And we were able to ratify that, and now, further discussions can take place about making the world even safer with respect to nuclear weapons.

In addition, Russia was enormously cooperative – has been and is today – with respect to Afghanistan, the WTO, Iran, and North Korea. Those are the big items, those are the big issues, on which issues like war and peace hang and fall. And so I want to thank Sergey for his cooperative efforts with respect to those issues, and I know President Obama is grateful to President Putin and to the Russian people.

In addition, I want to say a few words. We did discuss a broad array of issues, but I would like to focus, if I can for a moment, on the issue that Sergey just talked about with respect to Syria. It was clearly one of the important reasons for my coming to Moscow today, apart from the need to discuss the other issues. I thank all of you for your patience. I know it’s been a long day. But Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have conducted a broad discussion with President Putin and together about our increasing cooperation, particularly with respect to the issues surrounding Syria. I want to express my thanks to President Putin for the significant amount of time that he gave to a very productive and very warm and friendly discussion that we had today. And I think it has contributed significantly to our ability to map a road ahead, because President Putin specifically turned to Foreign Minister Lavrov and designated him to work directly with me on this effort, and we have decided on the following, to follow up on what Sergey said:

We believe that the Geneva communique is the important track to end the bloodshed in Syria, and it should not be a piece of paper. It should not be a forgotten communique of diplomacy. It should be the roadmap, the implemented manner by which the people of Syria could find their way to the new Syria, and by which the bloodshed, the killing, the massacres can end. Encouraging the stated intentions of the Syrian Government and the opposition groups to find a political solution, both have said they want to, both are committed to it. And recently, the opposition came to Istanbul and signed a set of declarations regarding its embrace of the Geneva communique.

And so to that end, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have agreed that as soon as is practical, possibly and hopefully by the end of this month, we will convene – seek to convene an international conference as a follow-on to last summer’s Geneva conference. And the specific work of this next conference will be to bring representatives of the government and the opposition together to determine how we can fully implement the means of the communique, understanding that the communique’s language specifically says that the Government of Syria and the opposition have to put together, by mutual consent, the parties that will then become the transitional government itself.

Our two countries, the United States and Russia, reiterate our commitment to the sovereignty and the territorial unity of Syria, and to the full implementation of the Geneva communique, recognizing this requires the mutual consent of both parties. Therefore, we have agreed to use our good offices, both of us, to bring both sides to the table working with our other core coalition partners and other allies and interested parties to bring both sides to the table in partnership with the concerned foreign countries that are committed themselves to helping the Syrians to find a promising political solution within the Geneva framework.

We’ve also affirmed our commitment to a negotiated settlement as the essential means of ending the bloodshed, addressing humanitarian disaster in Syria, and addressing the problem of the security of chemical weapons and forestalling further regional instability. We believe that full implementation of the Geneva communique calls for a transition governing body as specifically set forth in the language of the communique, which is formed by mutual consent with the support of the international community and enjoying full executive authority – that means the full authority to run and manage the government, including the military and security services, and then doing so as soon as we can possibly implement it is the best way to resolve the crisis in Syria.

So I thank my friend, Sergey, for some terrific work today. They were great efforts, and again, I reiterate my gratitude to President Putin for a very generous welcome here. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Arshad Mohammed from Reuters.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov, what makes you think that President Assad would be willing to take part in a negotiated political solution if, as the United States has repeatedly said, he must leave power?

And Secretary Kerry, why should ordinary Syrians, who have seen tens of thousands of their countrymen die since last June’s communique, believe that another – that a meeting held in a month or more might actually yield an end to this conflict? Why is that any more likely now than it was 10 months ago?


SECRETARY KERRY: Actually, (inaudible)?

QUESTION: No, right here.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh. What was – just clarify for me again the last part of your question. What would make the Syrian people --

QUESTION: (Inaudible), anyway, why should the Syrian people have any more – why should the Syrian people have any more confidence today that what you have announced – hopes for a conference by the end of the month perhaps and a joint effort to try to encourage both sides to come to the table – is any more likely to stop the violence given how many deaths have occurred and given particularly that your view is that Assad must go. And why should the Assad government go to a negotiation that entails its own demise?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the – let me begin with the alternative. The alternative is that there’s even more violence. The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss, and into chaos. The alternative is that the humanitarian crisis will grow, and the alternative is that there may be even a breakup in Syria or ethnic attacks and ethnic cleansing and other results which threaten the stability of the region and challenge the conscience of good people everywhere in the world. That’s the alternative.

Now, up until now, I think there has been a perception that Russia and the United States haven’t been particularly on the same page of cooperating in this effort. So what I think is significant is that we are here to say that we are going to cooperate in trying to implement the Geneva communique, and I think our understanding of that communique is very similar, and there’s actually more agreement even though our position has been that it’s impossible for me as an individual to understand how Syria could possibly be governed in the future by the man who has committed the things that we know have taken place. But that’s not – I’m not going to decide that tonight. And I’m not going to decide that in the end. Because the Geneva communique says that the transitional government has to be chosen by mutual consent by the parties. Who are the parties? The parties are the current regime and the opposition. So what we’re going to undertake to do is to try to get them in a position where they, representing the people they represent – Syria and the interests they represent – put people into a transitional government by mutual consent.

Now I believe another thing is happening. I think a lot of people in the region and in the world are seeing this violence and frankly are really deeply concerned for the people of Syria and for the possibilities of peace, and that there will be a growing crescendo of nations who will want to push for a peaceful resolution rather than the chaos that comes with the breakup of the country and the continued battle, which can and will take place. Now it’s obviously up to the regime to undertake a set of behavior – to undertake steps here to guarantee that they’re not using chemical weapons, they’re not inviting greater reactions than exist today. And we’ll have to see how that plays out.

But I think that Sergey and I are both convinced that since Geneva is there and agreed on – the opposition went to Istanbul a week ago, two weeks ago, and in Istanbul they issued a set of declarations in which they signed on to, number one, support for the Geneva communique, support for a transitional government. They signed on to a set of standards which would prohibit any use of chemical weapons. They agreed to be inclusive and democratic and protect all minorities inside Syria. And so I think there’s the basis here for the people of Syria to have confidence that if we can achieve a transitional government and ultimately end the violence, the people of Syria will decide the future of Syria. And I think that’s what Sergey wants, that’s what I want, and it’s what President Putin and President Obama want, and that’s what we’re trying to implement.


MODERATOR: (In Russian.)

QUESTION: (In Russian.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Olga,let me just say that the law has been – the law – the proposal that has been introduced in the United States Senate by the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Menendez, and there is some sentiment both in the House and Senate to provide arms to the opposition. I think that ultimately that will be determined to some degree by the state of the evidence with respect to chemical weapons and what steps have been taken. As you know, President Obama has ordered an appropriate, careful analysis of that evidence. And I think the Congress will look very carefully at the results of that analysis in order to make any judgments going forward. And again, I think if this kind of process can move successfully to bring parties together and actually implement the Geneva communique, then hopefully that would not be necessary. So much will depend on what happens over the course of these next weeks as to what will happen to that particular legislation.

One thing that’s clear: The President of the United States has said that he hasn’t taken options off the table yet, pending the determinations of the chemical weapons use, and he is serious about making certain that that prohibition is enforced.


MODERATOR: The next question will come from Jill Dougherty from CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’d like to begin with a question in Russian for Sergey Viktorovich. (In Russian.) Secretary Kerry?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s all right. I’ll just say da. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Maybe not.

SECRETARY KERRY: Maybe nyet. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You have talked about Russia and the United States working more closely after the attack in Boston. But this last year has been marred by a number of issues, and you referred to some of them – Syrian missile defense, the Magnitsky Act, NGOs, adoption, et cetera. You spent, it looks like, two and a half hours with President Putin. Did you make any concrete progress on those issues, and does Boston really change anything specifically in how the countries are going to work together? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Jill – (inaudible), do you want to –


SECRETARY KERRY: Jill, I think it’s important, really, to put some of the issues that have been on the table between Russia and the United States in the last few years, to put them in the perspective that I tried to put them in in my opening comments. I think that when Sergey and I first met earlier in the year, when I had just been appointed – and we had met many times before that, we’ve worked together on a number of things through the years – we sat down and said, we’re two of the most powerful countries in the world, we have a long history, there are really important things for the world to be working on right now, to see two great nations joining together to work on. And those are things like nuclear proliferation, Iran, North Korea, the threat of war, Middle East peace, Syria, and the possibility of ethnic conflagration.

We have the ability as countries to be able to change the direction of those events. And if we get lost in some of these other issues, which are important – I’m not negating them at all. We did talk about things like adoption and Magnitsky, because you have to be able to talk about those things. But the key is not to let them become so personalized or so much an impediment to the larger goal and to the broader agenda and to our larger interests.

And I think that’s what we’ve sort of resolved here, is there are big things to be done. What Boston does is remind us that all of us – as if we needed a reminder after 9/11 in 2001 and other events, but it does underscore that we all have an interest in standing up against extremism. One of the threats in Syria is – that has become a magnet for extremists, for people who have already announced their desire to do harm to other people in the world, to align themselves with al-Qaida, to attack Western interests or other interests. And so I think we have to keep our eye on the larger strategic interests here. And what we’ve done today is come together and try to focus on those, even as we will work on these other issues in a constructive and thoughtful way. And I feel very confident in the conversation with President Putin. He could not have been more clear, he was open, he listened carefully, took a few notes on a few of the things, and I was impressed by his desire to try to see us make a transformation.

The proof will be in the pudding. The words here tonight will not be judges of this. The actions over the course of the next months will be. But I know that there are high-level visits that are scheduled in the days ahead, and most importantly, that President Putin and President Obama will meet on the sidelines of the G-8 in Northern Ireland in a short time, and we are all going to work to try to make that a constructive and forward-leaning meeting.


QUESTION: (In Russian.)


QUESTION: (In Russian.)

SECRETARY KERRY: You want me to say something? (Laughter.) Oh, I’m sorry (inaudible) I tried. Let me just say that Sergey has summarized it. Yes, we did discuss it. The minister raised the issue, and I responded. And I think he has adequately said that there is an appeal process, it’s going through our court system.

I want to emphasize that this is not about Russia and the United States. This is about two individuals who were tried in a court of law and who are going through the appellate process. And I can guarantee you they will be afforded the full rights that are afforded in our court system – transparency, accountability, and they will get medical care if medical care is needed. So I can assure you we will work very closely with the Foreign Minister; and if there’s a resolution when the appeal is over that works for everybody, we certainly will take that into consideration.

PRN: 2013/T05-02