Remarks With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Secretary of State
The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
We proceed from the fact that the solution on this problem will make unnecessary any strike on the Syrian Arab Republic, and I am convinced that our American colleagues, as President Obama stated, are firmly convinced that we should follow the peaceful way of resolution of the conflict in Syria. And I should say that we spoke with John by phone several times when we prepared for this meeting. We think that the development of the events gives us an additional opportunity for Geneva 2 in order to move this today’s situation from the stage of military confrontation and to prevent any terroristic threats which is expanding in Syria and in the region, and to convene the conference during which the Syrian parties, in accordance with the Geneva communiques, should agree on the creation of the transition body that will have all the executive functions. And this is our common objectives, and I hope that our today’s and tomorrow work and all other efforts that we are going to continue will help us to move on and to achieve this objective.
Thank you for your attention.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Foreign Minister Lavrov. My privilege to be here with our delegation, and I want to thank you and your delegation on behalf of all the people who hope that diplomacy can avoid military action, and we thank you for coming quickly to Geneva in order to have this important conversation that we will engage in.
Over one year ago, President Obama and President Putin directed high-level experts in our governments, both of our governments, to work together to prepare contingencies involving Syria’s chemical weapons. Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have been in regular contact about this issue since my visit to Moscow earlier this year. And as Foreign Minister Lavrov said to me in a phone conversation after St. Petersburg and the meetings there, President Putin and President Obama thought it would be worthwhile for us to work together to determine if there is life in this concept.
This challenge obviously took on grave urgency on August 21st when the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in a massive and indiscriminate way against its own citizens. President Obama and dozens of our partners believe that that action is unacceptable, and we have in no uncertain terms made it clear that we cannot allow that to happen again.
In light of what has happened, the world wonders and watches closely whether or not the Assad regime will live up to its public commitments that it has made to give up their chemical weapons and whether two of the world’s most powerful nations can together take a critical step forward in order to hold the regime to its stated promises.
I have seen reports that the Syrian regime has suggested that as part of the standard process they ought to have 30 days to submit data on their technical – on their chemical weapons stockpile. We believe there is nothing standard about this process at this moment because of the way the regime has behaved, because the – not only the existence of these weapons, but they have been used. And the words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough, which is why we’ve come here in order to work with the Russians and work with Sergey Lavrov and his delegation here in order to make certain that this can, in fact, be achieved.
The United States and Russia have had and continue to have our share of disagreements about the situation in Syria, including a difference as to the judgment we just offered with respect to who may have done that. But what’s important as we come here is that there’s much that we agree on. We agree that on August 21st Syrian men, women, and children died grotesque deaths due to chemical weapons. We agree that no one anywhere at any time should employ chemical weapons. And we agree that our joining together with the international community to eliminate stockpiles of these weapons in Syria would be an historic moment for the multilateral nonproliferation efforts. We agree on those things. We agree that it would help to save lives if we could accomplish this, that it would reduce the threat to the region, that it would uphold the norm that was established here in Geneva almost a century ago, and it would achieve the best of our – all of our aspirations for curbing weapons of mass destruction.
Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have come to Geneva today to begin to test these propositions, not just on behalf of each of our countries but on behalf of everybody who is interested in a peaceful resolution. So I welcome the distinguished Russian delegation and I am proud that at President Obama’s direction we have a delegation here which I lead of some of our nation’s foremost chemical weapons experts; people who’ve dedicated their lives every day to countering the proliferation of these weapons and to bringing about their eventual elimination from this Earth.
The Russian delegation has put some ideas forward, and we’re grateful for that. We respect it. And we have prepared our own principles that any plan to accomplish this needs to encompass. Expectations are high. They are high for the United States, perhaps even more so for Russia to deliver on the promise of this moment. This is not a game, and I said that to my friend Sergey when we talked about it initially. It has to be real. It has to be comprehensive. It has to be verifiable. It has to be credible. It has to be timely and implemented in a timely fashion. And finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place.
Diplomacy is and always has been President Obama’s and this Administration’s first resort, and achieving a peaceful resolution is clearly preferable to military action. President Obama has said that again and again. Now, it’s too early to tell whether or not these efforts will succeed, but the technical challenges of trying to do this in the context of a civil war are obviously immense. But despite how difficult this is, with the collaboration of our experts and only with the compliance from the Assad regime, we do believe there is a way to get this done.
We have come here to define a potential path forward that we can share with our international partners, and together we will test the Assad regime’s commitment to follow through on its promises. We are serious – Mr. Foreign Minister, we are serious, as you are – about engaging in substantive, meaningful negotiations even as our military maintains its current posture to keep up the pressure on the Assad regime. Only the credible threat of force and the intervention of President Putin and Russia based on that has brought the Assad regime to acknowledge for the first time that it even has chemical weapons and an arsenal, and it is now prepared to relinquish it. President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapons. It won’t get rid of them, but it could change his willingness to use them.
The best thing to do, we agree, is remove them altogether. Our challenge here in Geneva is to test the viability of placing Assad’s chemical weapons under international control, removing them from Syria, and destroying them forever. But the United States has also made clear that the deaths of more than 100,000 Syrians and the displacement of millions either internally or as refugees remains a stain on the world’s conscience. We all need to keep that in mind and deal with it.
And that is why Foreign Minister Lavrov and I continue to work with Joint Special Envoy Brahimi and ourselves under the auspices of the Geneva communique. The Foreign Secretary just mentioned this and his hopes. We share those hopes that could foster a political solution to a civil war that undermines the stability of the region, threatens our own national security interests, and compels us to act. That is our hope and that is what we fervently hope can come out of this meeting and these negotiations.
Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: With your permission, just two words.
(Via interpreter) I’m not prepared with the (inaudible) political statement to (inaudible) the Syrian problem, because our approaches are clear and they are stated in the statements of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and in his article in The New York Times. And I’m convinced that all of you read this article and I decided not to lay out here our diplomatic position. The diplomacy likes silence. And we’re intent to find compromises, and I am sure that John, in his presentation of the American position, also showed that they would like to find mutual consensus and be – if we follow this way, I hope that we will achieve all the successes.
SECRETARY KERRY: I lost the last part of the – can you give me the last part of the translation, please? Hello?
INTERPRETER: Yes, hello.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: It was okay, John. Don’t worry. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: You want me to take your word for it? (Laughter.) It’s a little early for that.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: Okay. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks.