Joint Press Availability With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) (In progress) -- met President Aliyev and President Sargsyan. Recently upon the instruction of my president I visited Yerevan and Baku, and today we exchanged views as to the ways to use the momentum in order to reach an agreement with respect to practical steps and agreed upon the agreements that will be acceptable for all the sides and that would help us attain the goal of bringing peace to this very important region.
We also raised the issue of Ukraine. There’s a number of formats working on the – this (inaudible) issue. I’m referring to the contact group with the subgroups. We believe that this format is very important since the representatives of the Ukrainian authorities and the representatives of Donbas are participating in this format. There is also the Normandy format with the participation of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany, and there is also direct bilateral channel between Russia and the United States.
We’ve got a (inaudible) which all these formats should be working concurrently, and during the visit of John Kerry to the Russian Federation a series of experts meeting has taken place that have been very fruitful, and we hope that they would be instrumental in terms of implementing the package of measures of the implementation of Minsk agreements by promoting direct dialogue between Kyiv and Donbas and Luhansk.
(Inaudible) exchanged views on the results of the recent Russia-NATO Council (inaudible). We discussed the issues of strategic stability that would require additional dialogue, first of all, between our states. I hope that these discussions would develop and evolve in the future.
We also discussed the issues of our bilateral agenda. Contrary to the previous meetings, during which we exchanged concerns the both sides are having, we tried to move from just expressing concerns to elaborating upon a roadmap that would focus on minor steps (inaudible) and overcoming difficult situation in our bilateral context.
All in all, I believe that this meeting and this visit was very useful. I’m referring to the negotiations with the Russian president that took place yesterday and today’s talks that have lasted for the whole day, and they all demonstrate there is a common understanding that we need each other as well as that the international community needs us particularly when it comes to (inaudible) international problems. First of all, I’m referring to the problem of national terrorism and yesterday terrorist attack in Nice, which has become a real shock despite the fact that terrorist attacks have become a regular thing today. Together with John Kerry we visited the French embassy and laid a wreath at the embassy. We left a note in the book of condolences.
I believe that all of it should encourage us to start working more efficiently on real problems at the level of foreign ministers and at the level of heads of state so that we put aside politicized and artificial rows which are worked up in mass media and presented as the main substance of our negotiations. Our talks in Moscow bring me to the conclusion that it is not the case and, as it has been confirmed during the recent telephone conversation between President Obama and President Putin, there is possible politicians in those countries are interested in being guided by real national interests and interests of the international community, taking into account the importance the Russia and United States have for the global stability and cooperation.
I would like to thank John Kerry for his visit. We meet and talk regularly. I do hope that the results of our meetings are instrumental not only in addressing international problems but also in preventing imbalances and distortions in the relations between Russia and the United States.
We also talked about issues of enormous concern to the world, issues which are challenging countries and leaders in many parts of the world. And we were reminded in very stark and painful terms of one of those issues last night when we learned of the horrific attack in Nice. And I join with Sergey, as I did this afternoon when we were privileged to go over to the embassy here in Moscow, the French embassy, put some flowers on a makeshift memorial and have an opportunity to write condolences in the book. And both of us join in extending our deepest condolences to the families and to the friends of those killed. I know there were a couple of Americans. My hearts go out particularly to their family and their friends, and we wish a very speedy recovery to those who were injured, and there were many of them.
No doubt yesterday had a special irony for me because I had the privilege in the morning of standing alongside President Hollande in Paris and the privilege of marking Bastille Day, the national day of France. How profoundly shocking to see a day of national celebration turned into a night of horror and of mourning.
Our countries – I know from my conversations with President Putin yesterday and Sergey Lavrov today – we will continue to stand together in this time of tragedy, and we will stand with France in our shared fight against violent extremism worldwide. And I know we will do everything in our power to support the French people at this time – another tragedy yet again for France.
What is certain is that none of us will ever be intimidated by the forces that seek to divide and terrorize nations. No act of terror can shake the bonds of friendship between the United States and France nor undermine the values that join us together as allies and partners, the very values that we celebrated on Bastille Day – liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Now, it is inescapable that these horrendous attacks the night before I began my conversations with President Putin and here today with Sergey Lavrov underscored the degree to which making progress against terrorists and resolving the conflict in Syria particularly is absolutely critical. So we met here in Moscow over these last hours because, as everyone knows, the cessation of hostilities has come under huge stress in recent months and still in Syria too many innocent people are dying. Too many terrorists are waging war against civilization itself.
On the first hand, the Assad regime has relentlessly continued indiscriminate attacks contrary to the agreements of the ISSG and the UN Security Council. But on the other side, the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusrah, the al-Qaida branch in Syria, has also launched its own offensives, sometimes with members of different oppositions joining with them.
And the result has been a cycle of excuses for continuing to fight each other, with a steady deterioration of a hard-fought-for cessation of hostilities in the process. And that has resulted in the killing of civilians, more refugees, more displaced persons, more radicalization, more terrorism, and ultimately an increasing sense of hopelessness among the people of Syria.
Russia and the United States have come together with the belief, as Sergey expressed, that when Russia and the United States put their mind to it and try deliberately and with purpose to have an impact on an issue – as we did on chemical weapons in Syria, as we did with respect to the Joint Plan of Action for Iran, as we did in passing a monumental initiative in Paris on climate change – when we come together with that purpose, we have an ability to make a difference.
And so we came together here and we have agreed to steps that, if implemented in good faith, can address two serious problems that I’ve just described about the cessation. It is possible to help restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce the violence, and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition.
Now, the concrete steps that we’ve agreed on are not going to be laid out in public in some long list because we want them to work and because they need more work in order to work. I want to emphasize, though, they are not based on trust. They defined specific, sequential responsibilities all parties to the conflict must assume with the intent of stopping altogether the indiscriminate bombing of the Assad regime and stepping up our efforts against al-Nusrah.
Now, there are further steps that we need to work on. We both accepted that responsibility. In order to implement this approach, our teams will need to meet and work through some details. Each of us know exactly what we have to do. And I know and Sergey knows that there are spoilers who will make every effort to try to disrupt this initiative, and we also know – and this is important – the results will not be tomorrow or the next day. They will not be immediate.
But our patience also is not limitless. International efforts have failed the Syrian people for far too long. We know that. After five years of war, the people of Syria don’t want words. They want action and they deeply want to be able to live in peace. We, of course, took every effort over the course of the last hours – many hours – focusing on how to try to make this real. And we believe the best way to make it real is to go about a quiet business which is the prerequisite of being able to implement the things that we think should be implemented.
Now, as Sergey related to you, we had a very, very full agenda. We discussed almost every other issue of concern, from bilateral relationship to Ukraine, implementation of Minsk; Yemen, Middle East peace, as Sergey described; Libya, and so forth. And we talked specifically further about Nagorno-Karabakh, where we have both been involved as members of the Minsk – as the co-chairs of Minsk. Together with our French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault we are working on that issue, and I appreciate President Putin’s leadership and I appreciate Sergey’s initiative in visiting the capitals and working with the presidents. I had the privilege of meeting with both presidents in Warsaw just the other day, and we are deeply encouraging – all of us – of an effort to move away from war and move towards the potential of peace for a long, long-frozen conflict.
Just last month, President Putin met with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in St. Petersburg, and when I saw them in Warsaw, they were grateful for that and they talked further about ways we might try to go forward. It is clearly in everyone’s interest to avoid a new outbreak of fighting, and I am confident that with Russian, American, and French support, the potential for progress is there. Foreign Minister Lavrov and I will continue to consult on this issue, and we’ll remain in regular contact with both presidents in order to try to encourage a peaceful and a permanent solution.
In closing, I just want to remind everyone that yesterday marked one year since the United States, Russia, China, and our partners in Europe finalized an agreement that blocks Iran’s potential pathways to building a nuclear weapon. And that was an agreement that we can proudly say has made the world a safer place. Reaching that agreement required cooperation, coordination, and a consistent commitment by both of our nations – Russia and the United States, and the others – to diplomacy, to nonproliferation, and to a future that is less dangerous and more secure and more peaceful.
It is absolutely in that spirit that we have come together in Moscow today, and it is in that spirit that we strive to replicate our efforts in confronting the crises in Syria, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, and elsewhere. And so with that, again, I thank my host, Sergey Lavrov, and we’d be happy to take a question, or questions. I’m not sure how it’s working.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) question is going to be one question from Russian journalists (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: First question tonight from Gardiner Harris, New York Times.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, first, can you give us an update on the situation in Turkey at the moment? I’m sorry to ask something so off-topic, but it’s certainly of interest.
Second, critics say this deal is a huge boon to the Assad regime by concentrating American firepower against the most effective anti-Assad forces and that you’re basically selling out the rebels. Can you respond to that criticism, and what happens to this deal if, like every other one, the Syrian and Russian forces violate its terms?
Mr. Lavrov, are you doing anything concrete to plan for or encourage a post-Assad future, and if so, what? And independent news organizations have reported that Russian forces have repeatedly violated previous ceasefire agreements in Syria. Are those reports accurate?
SECRETARY KERRY: You want me to go first, Sergey (inaudible)?
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY KERRY: So with respect to Turkey, I only – because we have been engaged very deeply in discussions all day, and literally Sergey and I caught up to the news of what may or may not be happening at the very last minute before coming in here. So I think it’s inappropriate for me to comment except to say that we’ve heard the reports that others have heard. I don’t have any details at this point in time. I hope there will be stability and peace and continuity within Turkey, but I have nothing to add with respect to what has transpired at this moment.
With respect to the critics who may or may not be making judgments about what may or may not have been agreed upon, first of all, they don’t know the details of what we have or haven’t agreed on. And number two, we have homework to do, and I said that very clearly. Number three, the United Nations Security Council has labeled both Daesh – or ISIL, as some call it – and al-Nusrah, which is al-Qaida – they are labeled as terrorist organizations. And the United States has no clouds over our – there’s nothing standing in the way of our judgment about the need to be standing up against and fighting against terrorism. And both are terrorists.
So if some critic is criticizing the United States or Russia for going after al-Nusrah, which is a terrorist organization, because they’re good fighters against Assad, they have their priorities completely screwed up. The fact is that Nusrah is plotting against countries in the world. What happened in Nice last night could just as well have come from Nusrah or wherever it came from as any other entity, because that’s what they do. And so I have no illusions about what we need to do. I also have confidence in the people of Syria and confidence in the opposition – the non-terrorist organization opposition, the legitimate opposition, the opposition we have supported – to continue to fight for their freedom and for their principles and their values within Syria. And there is nothing that we are doing that is going to undermine the particular fundamentals between them and the Assad regime.
We have always said – and nothing that we’re talking about doing here will change the fact – that there is no military solution to the problem of Syria. It requires a diplomatic, political solution. And that political solution requires going to the table and having a negotiation in Geneva according to the terms of the Geneva accord.
Now, as I said a moment ago, there are two principal violators that have been persistently violating what is going on with respect to the ceasefire. And one is, as I said, the Assad regime with its indiscriminate bombing, and the second is obviously the question of al-Nusrah – which, as you just said, is fighting against Assad and which is providing no peace and security and which, regrettably, some opposition have occasionally chosen to fight with because they are fighting against Assad. But that doesn’t excuse it, and it will not excuse it in our eyes. We saw what happened when people said the same thing about ISIL for a period of time – oh, don’t worry, they’re just a force against Assad, and down the road we can take them on. Well, they became more than just a force. And so I think that it is important for the United States, Russia, the entire coalition of ISSG to stand up against terrorism, and that is what we intend to continue to do.
Now, we continue – not one iota of our policy has changed with respect to the Assad regime. We still believe that Syria can’t have peace while Assad is there. We believe that. We have a difference with Russia on that. But notwithstanding that difference, we both believe it is important for us to try to reestablish the cessation of hostilities.
And when we first came to the table in Vienna and I proposed a ceasefire, put it on the table, it was not Russia or Iran that said no. Both of them said yes, we should have a ceasefire. But there were others at the table who opposed proceeding forward with a ceasefire, and some of them, unfortunately, I think, may regret that today. But the point is simply that we have consistently been working towards the full implementation of a ceasefire.
Now, final comment. It gets very confusing, obviously, on the ground with respect to who’s who and who’s where, and that’s part of the homework we’re going to do in order to absolutely be able to be clearer to people about who is supported by whom and who needs to change their behavior in order to adhere to the ceasefire itself.
And we had a long conversation about that today. I’m not going to share all the details of it because it won’t work unless certain things, conditions which we agree have to be met, are put in place. So we’re not here promising the world, not here tonight to suggest to you that overnight this is going to change. But I am here with confidence that if the things we talked about and agreed ought to be implemented are, in fact, implemented, then this has the opportunity to change the playing field significantly. And let the proof be in the pudding, not in our words.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) As for our attitude regarding your first question about the recent events in Turkey, we get all the recent updates regarding the information in that country, but I do believe that reporters and press people these days know more than diplomats. We believe that it is important right now to avoid any bloodshed, any violent clashes, and all issues should be addressed and resolved constitutionally in any country.
As for Syria and the issues that we see within the context of implementing the decisions of the ISSG and the UN Security Council resolutions, as John said, we have agreed today on some very specific steps, but those steps cannot be regarded as results as such, as results in themselves, as of now. A very specific result of today’s negotiation is our agreement on these steps, and I hope very much that our experts on both sides will do everything quickly and with full awareness of their responsibility considering our two countries’ roles as co-chairs of the ISSG and the initiatives proposed by our two countries that were approved by the UN Security Council.
You asked whether this concentration of effort by the U.S., its focus on fighting the al-Nusrah Front will mean that the most effective anti-Assad group will become weaker, will be weakened. I understand that reporters have the right to instigate a discussion with hard questions, but the UN Security Council stated several times that there can be no excuse for terrorist attacks; nothing can serve as an excuse or a pretext for supporting or abetting terrorist activities. And ISIS and the al-Nusrah Front have been identified as terrorist groups by the UN Security Council, and as such they must be eliminated. And all the countries that are part of the ISSG have unilaterally – have unanimously agreed on this. This is also the unanimous attitude of the United Nations laid out in UN Security Council resolutions. They have previous examples in history where certain governments tried to coo terrorists, to court terrorists and use them to their own ends in order to topple governments like in other countries. Back in Soviet time, we do remember the history in Afghanistan where some of our counterparts supported the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, believing that the Mujaheddin would help them inflict maximum damage against Soviet forces and later they will be able to tame those Mujaheddin. But tame them they have not managed to do, and those Mujaheddin later morphed into al-Qaida, which on September 11th, 2001 committed a horrible terrorist attack in New York, after which our countries had to unite against terrorism.
We also have the more recent example in Libya, where countries that were determined to overthrow Qadhafi did not shy away from cooperating with certain terrorist groups, and we all see what’s – where this has gotten us. Today Libya is a den of terrorism. It is a country which is in the hands of radicals and the weapons supplied to anti-Qadhafi groups have spread out all across the region and now we are all doing our best to keep this country together and keep it from falling apart and becoming a festering pit for terrorists.
As for the Syrian issue, we could go on and on discussing who is to blame. We have our roadmap laid out in numerous documents starting from the Geneva communique of June 2012 plus the UN Security Council resolutions plus the decisions by the ISSG, and all of those documents clearly state that the Syrian people, the people of Syria, are the only one entitled to decide the future of Syria. This means that what we need is to finally implement the agreements that we already have and put all those groups in Syria at the bargaining table, the negotiating table, including the Syrian Government and all of Syria’s political group.
Unfortunately, regrettably, with all due respect to our colleagues in the United Nations, no one has tried to do that as of now. The effort by various UN officials to play the role of charter diplomacy, trying to put various groups at a negotiating table and act as intermediaries, they have not been successful. The roadmap requires a direct negotiation between the warring parties. It is the same drill in all other countries, with Libya or other countries of the world: A direct negotiation between the warring parties is needed for a settlement, for a peaceful settlement; and no international stakeholders, including Russia or the United States, is entitled to substitute this process.
However, we can exert our influence on the groups that we support and on the parties that we have in this country to urge them to sit down at the negotiating table and start talking to each other, and we hope that such a process, such a political process, will be launched in the future, in the near future, and that the future political process in Syria will be based on democratic principles and on the UN’s Charter which states, which maintains that the peoples are entitled to decide their own fate, primarily through free and fair elections where politicians will take place in the race and where voters will be able to make their choices.
MODERATOR: (In Russian.)
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) We just received information that the foreign ministries of France and Belgium have recommended their citizens to stay indoors if they are in Turkey. Has the Russian foreign ministry issued any recommendations for the Russian nationals in Turkey?
And as for this separation between the al-Nusrah Front and the so-called moderate opposition, have you discussed any measures to punish, to penalize Syrian --
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter, in progress) ...or more to be as careful as possible before we learn the detail of the situation as much as possible. But we also have recommended places. You can consider this as a public warning issued as of now.
As for the second part of your question, we have agreed that ISIS and the al-Nusrah Front are terrorist groups and they are exempt from any ceasefire arrangements. They are supposed to be eliminated. They are our common enemies, and the ISSG has clearly decided and has clearly agreed that the opposition groups in Syria that do not want to be associated with terrorists and that are willing to join the ceasefire and become parties to the ceasefire, they must separate themselves from ISIS and the al-Nusrah Front, including geographic separation – they must physically separate themselves and geographically separate themselves from the terrorists so that nobody would be able to speculate that in some – in certain areas in Syria, the terrorists are mixed and intertwined with the moderate opposition.
There has been enough time in the past months for moderate groups in Syria to join the ceasefire and separate themselves from the real terrorists. I believe that those who have not done so should not be considered constructive opposition or moderate opposition. Those are people who are trying to benefit in their own way from dealing and cooperating with terrorists. We understand the complications that our American counterparts have to face, especially as regards practical steps aimed at separating and distinguishing moderate opposition groups from the terrorists such as, primarily, the al-Nusrah Front. But we in Russia are also convinced that in recent months, such complications could have been already overcome or removed, and the measures that we have agreed on and that we will have to get down to implementing in the days and weeks to come, we hope that those measures will enable us to – after a certain deadline, I don’t know what to call those people. But I believe that those who have stayed in those positions despite the many months and the numerous calls to leave them and to separate themselves from the terrorists, maybe those people are not very different from terrorists themselves.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: Thank you, John.