Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,
The idea of convening an international conference on Syria was born about a month ago when it became clear that there were problems with the implementation of the six points of the plan of Kofi Annan, especially when the so-called Free Syrian army said it would not meet the requirements of the plan for a ceasefire. Then, we proposed to our partners to urgently convene an international conference on Syria. Our thoughts coincided with what Kofi Annan suggested to do. He took the initiative to create a Contact group. Now these two ideas were embodied in an event that marked the beginning of the activity of the "Action Group" in Syria.
Training was not easy. We preliminary extended our vision of the final document as a draft declaration, the main thrust of which was to ensure that all key external players have acted cooperatively, to ensure that the implementation of the peace plan and that each external player provide an impact on the Syrian side, on which they have influence, in order to comply with the provisions of the plan, approved by the UN Security Council. Therefore, we proposed to make the similar impact on all Syrian sides, so that they would start negotiating about what country they want to live in. Of course, it must be a representative range of participants, as provided in the plan of Kofi Annan - the government and all the Syrian opposition groups.
Our colleagues decided on the need of a more detailed document. It was prepared by a team of Special Envoy (UN / LAS). Russia was ready to work on it, although, in its first version there were provisions that we could not support it. We told them in advance during our contacts with the group of Kofi Annan, with U.S. and European partners, as well as with countries in the region.
I am very glad that today the promises of some of our partners saying that "if even one comma in the document of Kofi Annan will be changed," they will not come to Geneva did not come true. We reacted to it calmly, saying that it’s ministers’ job to make decisions, but not simply "stamp the documents," even those one that come from the pen of such a respected and experienced person like Kofi Annan. The Special Envoy did not put forward any ultimatums but offered ideas for discussion. We approached this paper exactly like that.
As I said, fortunately, the threat that someone will not come here, "if at least one comma is changed," did not come true as we expected. The constructive work was going on today. Incidentally, in the future I think that you should avoid trying to make any ultimatums and require rejection of the intellectual process, which took place today at the ministerial level.
The result of this process was a document which I am sure that you have already read. Kofi Annan and H. Clinton spoke about it before me. I'm not going to interpret these or other sections of this document. This document speaks for itself. We consider it fundamentally important that there is no attempt to impose what a transition process should be on the Syrian side. The document confirmed the generally accepted principles on which to build a democratic state - is respect for human rights, minority rights (which is especially important for such a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Syria), the necessity of holding free and fair elections and the formation of the governing bodies of the state based on the will of the people.
All these indisputable things are confirmed in the text. Syrians will negotiate how exactly within the framework of these principles the work of the transition to a new stage will be build on. This was stated very clear in the document.
First of all, we have ensured that in the text there are no prerequisites for beginning the transition process and national dialogue, there is no requirement to exclude any group from this process, although this aspect was present in the sentences of many of our partners. We convinced them that this is unacceptable - as a result of a pre-condition is not contained in the document.
Secondly, we were able to ensure that our partners have agreed to work on all sides and do not require anyone to have any unilateral steps but to send both to the government and armed opposition a clear message about the need to stop combat activities and to cooperate with the UN Mission Observation in Syria to help stabilize the situation. The original version contained a provision stating that the government should stop combat activity and to withdraw their troops from towns and other settlements, and then the opposition will have to decide whether it is ready to join it. Clearly, this was totally unrealistic approach, and it was removed from the document. Now it contains requirements that address both authorities and all opposition groups to clearly meet the requirements of the Kofi Annan’s plan as well as to stop combat activity. This should be done in many cities and towns, as most of them are under the control of the opposition. We are absolutely sure in the UN’s Monitor Mission and its head, Major General R. Mood regarding the stabilization and diffusion of the situation specifically in each of the cities and towns, and to ensure that the armed men left the city and gave the civilians a peaceful life and somehow overcome the current difficulties.
I will mention in this context that we consider the attempts to block the activity of the International Committee of the Red Cross to evacuate civilians who find themselves in a war zone in a particular city absolutely unacceptable. Unfortunately, the armed opposition is making such attempts, and we have paid special attention to this.
Thirdly, our partners would like us in the framework of “Action Group” on Syria to make a decision that on a mandatory need to adopt a new UN Security Council resolution of coercive measures against the Syrian leadership. For us this is unacceptable just because the convened group is not authorized to prejudge what will be done in the UN Security Council. The Council has its own procedures and any State member of the Security has the right to make proposals to be considered on the basis of existing rules. As a result of this review, members of the Security Council will determine the fate of such proposals.
We believe that prior to the topic of the involvement of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, everything possible should be done to implement the plan of Kofi Annan to that extent and on those basis of the decisions already taken by the UN Security Council. We have no shortage of evidence that the armed opposition and those who is funding, arming, sponsoring it in the broader sense of the word, do not fulfill their obligations and act in such a way as to prevent the stabilization of the situation, to constantly provoke the Syrian government, the Syrian forces, which, of course, do not always respond adequately and proportionately. Knowing this, some armed groups and their sponsors are constantly trying to provoke a spiral of violence. U.S. and European media published numerous facts about the atrocities in many cities where there were attacks on the police, the administration objects to the public and private property. Unfortunately, the evidence has increased that interdenominational strife, where people, including civilians, are killed solely on the basis of belonging to a particular faith begins to appear in Syria. This is a dangerous trend. No coincidence that today we have agreed on that the approved document should emphasize the need to negotiate a mutually acceptable ways of overcoming the crisis, which will take into account the interests of all segments of Syrian society in ethnic, religious and all the other senses.
The fundamental point of the document adopted today is that everyone who was assembled in Geneva opposed the further militarization of Syrian conflict. Unfortunately, the replenishment of weapons continues outside the armed conflict by irregular deliveries, which are not authorized by international law. Such illegal supply of weapons to various armed detachments deprive them an incentive to take the correct position.
That is why we insisted that in the document the commitment by all the participants to use their influence to affect of all Syrians in a right way was written - including government and the opposition groups, especially armed ones - to carry out the plan of Kofi Annan. I hope everyone understands that it is not going to be an easy job. Much will depend on the actions taken by Annan on our behalf, but rather on his mandate of the UN Security Council for a six-point plan. Today's meeting was useful because it was sufficiently representative in terms of external players influencing the situation. Unfortunately, the meeting was not fully representative for some unclear reasons; some of our partners did not support the Kofi Annan’s idea to invite Iran and Saudi Arabia to Geneva. Russia has actively promoted the fact that these two states, which greatly influence the situation, were present at the meeting. I hope that when we hold new meetings of "Action Group", our partners will be able to re-consider whether the expansion of its participants is correct, and to make it fully representative in terms of presence of those states that really affect what is happening in Syria.
We're all going to help Kofi Annan, as indicated not only in the communique adopted today, but in a separate statement of the five permanent members of UN Security Council. We support the action of Kofi Annan, and his plan for full implementation of the resolutions (SB) 2042 and 2043.
Please, I am ready to take your questions.
Question: Dear Minister, you are putting Syria's armed forces, operating with heavy weapons, and opposition forces, equipped with small arms on the same level. There is a video footage proving the use of Sun Syrian tanks and helicopters to attack residential areas. Thus, Russia is defending a regime that, without a doubt, kills large groups of people. Are you going to refer to the al-Assad to cooperate with Kofi Annan, as the first point of the six points of the plan was not implemented?
S.V. Lavrov: We are doing this for the last two months – we have made the formal adoption of Annan’s Plan by the Syrian government and the will continue to work on ensuring that the Syrian government will fulfill its obligations to the plan. We hope that our example will be followed by those who have influence on the type of groups like "free Syrian army," which has publicly stated that it would not implement a plan of Kofi Annan. As you know, there are a lot of states supporting the opposition, who stated that it is not going to work on the very next day after the announcement of the plan of the special envoy of UN / League of Arab States. I am suspicious that some states would like to see this plan failed the same way as the LAS mission, launched in November last year, has been artificially disrupted. It was then decided to shut the mission down as soon as it started to give a clear picture because of the difference in subjects which were shown through some media channels. It was a huge mistake. A few hundreds of people observed the mission, and it was agreed to increase the number of observers. If this mistake had not been made in January of this year, now we would have continued sustained international presence in Syria, about a thousand, maybe more people in the form of observers of LAS, which, of course, could be supported by monitors from other countries. A stabilized international presence in Syria would have been working for a long time now. However, the mission of LAS has been withdrawn. I see no other explanation except that someone does not want to leave the mission there, or better, to aggravate the situation.
With regard to pictures on the Internet and on television I would have to say that, unfortunately, this war has a very serious informational dimension. Today, my colleagues of the "Action Group" and I discussed their opinions about what the European Union, Arab League and then decided to freeze Syrian television satellite channels. I have not heard a response yet. Although we regularly meet with our friends from the EU on other occasions, and in the first place they always have the freedom of speech and freedom of journalists to protect their rights. When the robbery occurred at the headquarters of the Syrian channel in the outskirts of Damascus, I do not recall any buzz on that occasion. I do not know whether an international association of journalists in New York, Geneva or elsewhere expressed its position on this issue. I think many of us here would agree with me that the information war is still going on. We know that a number of journalists working for Arab TV channel "Al Jazeera," resigned in protest of how the events are presented to the viewer in Syria. When some channels, such as "BBC", "Euronews" and "CNN" show shaky footage shot on mobile phones, make a statement that they could not confirm the identity of such staff.
This does not mean that we have to somehow justify the actions of the existing regime in Syria. We have repeatedly said that the regime has the primary responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens and the safety of Syria. We have also repeatedly said that the Syrian regime is seriously late with reforms, but we certainly cannot stand on the position (of those who accuse it) in the output of tanks to attack the unarmed. We also know that it is not true. There are plenty of facts about what and from who they receive the armed forces who are fighting against the regime shown by the media in Europe, the USA and other regions.
It is impossible to see everything in black and white only. No wonder the UN Security Council stressed the need for a cessation of violence by all Syrian patries. This idea is very clearly stated in the statement adopted here today. We use all the influence on Damascus, and we do not limit activities only to the contacts with the regime. Representatives of almost all opposition groups visited Moscow. These contacts are ongoing; they are planned just for the foreseeable week. We also have contacts with the Syrian opposition, through our embassy in Paris, London, Washington, Ankara and the Consulate General in Istanbul. We have a clear understanding of the positions they occupy, and we try to influence them.
But when we call upon the representatives of some opposition groups that have contacts to comply with the provisions of the Annan’s plan, they say that we have heard us, but other external players, tell them the exact opposite – specifically, to never say die and to not to stop the fight, while "Countries abroad will help.”
During today's meeting, which I have called useful, we talked about it very openly. The conversation was very open and pragmatic. I can say that I have a hope that after this meeting and adoption of the document, its provisions will be taken seriously not only by all Syrian parties, but by all members of the "Action Group". We need coordinated and positive actions in order for us to fight all those who are shooting at each other in Syria, and demanded from them for the sake of their own people, for the fate of the region to stop violence and sit at the negotiating table. If all those who participated in today's meeting of the "Action Group", do it honestly and aggressively, I think we can turn the tide.
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, are any mechanisms developed to prevent the spread of weapons to various factions that are in Syria, to put an end to illegal supply? Is the agreement obtained from the partners, both Western and Arab, that they will cooperate on this issue?
S. V. Lavrov: Thank you for your question. In response to the previous one, I forgot to mention about the supply of weapons. I note that means of the air defense, which we supply to Syria cannot be used against the opposition, especially against peaceful demonstrators, but only in case of repelling aggression from the air.
As for your question, I will say that we supported the idea of including the written statement on combating illicit arms transfers along with the thesis of the need to prevent the further militarization of the conflict on the final document. Our partners could not support this thesis. But I hope that they heard us and recognize their responsibility to prevent this from happening. It is not right to say that we all support the plan of Kofi Annan, and we want a peaceful national dialogue, but at the same time to supply weapons to the opposition and to indulge her radical sentiments.
Question: Do you think that Syria legitimately hit Turkish plane? In your opinion, was it flying over the territory of Syria or over international waters?
S.V. Lavrov: We made sure that the incident was thoroughly investigated. We know that there is conflicting information on this matter and have expressed our deep regret over the incident, and also urged to take all necessary measures to prevent future incidents of the similar nature. We supported the proposal for a joint investigation that Turkey and Syria can hold. We have our own data of objective observation, and we are ready to share them with all the parties, but it is their decision if they want us to share this information with them. The most important thing right now is to not allow the use of any incident to whip up passions in one direction or another.
Question: You talked about the flow of weapons, which falls to the opposition, and control them in some cities. After today's meeting, how can you and your partner make or persuade them to leave these territories and to lay down their weapons? On the other hand, al-Assad does not accept any of the recommendations from either his friends or partners, and what will happen if he does not agree with the creation of the interim government, which is offered by Kofi Annan?
S.V. Lavrov: The first part of your question is very specific and goes straight to the point. Today we talked about this more than about any other aspect of the document. As I said, our partners suggested that the government should withdraw its armed forces from the cities, and then some requirements will be addressed to the opposition, to cease the participation in violent acts. As a result, the call to stop violence and to cooperate with the United Nations Observer Mission in Syria is addressed both to the government and opposition, bearing in mind that should be agreed upon specific coordinated action to withdraw armed men from the cities.
We have discussed this with Kofi Annan, and Major General R. Mood. This is a very serious and difficult task, given the extent of the radicalization of the situation on both sides. We will do our best to help implementing such a task. Single recipe for every town and village cannot be found, because in some – the government has all the control and in others - the armed opposition. Moreover, this opposition is not necessarily a sole one; one city is controlled by one group, another – by the other group. The question arises, how they all can obey a single command. No one knows this. Rather, it is known that they do not obey a single command. We are talking about heavy burden of a fairly small UN Mission. We stand for the numerical increase of the Mission, and will wait for the recommendations from Kofi Annan and Major General R. Mood as they see a decrease of tension in each village.
We will continue as we have been doing all the time, honestly fulfill the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions and stress in dealing with the government and all opposition groups, that it is necessary to implement the plan of Kofi Annan. As I said, I hope that our partners who have a greater influence on the opposition will do the same.
Regarding the second part of the question on the recommendations of Kofi Annan and the response of al-Assad to them, I will say that here we must focus on the real events in the SAR. Due to our efforts, al-Assad accepted the Arab League peace plan, and then agreed to accept on its territory an observer mission of the League. Later on, he publicly made a commitment to implement the plan of Kofi Annan, and confirmed it in his recent interview. Then he agreed to the deployment of the UN Mission. He also agreed, as we have urged, with the UN on humanitarian access to nine governmental structures in Syria. He also expanded the access of journalists to Syria in response to our urgent recommendations. As we receive information from UN personnel, it may not completely, but still carries a requirement of a gradual release from detention of people arrested for taking part in protest activities. So, with respect to the advice received by al-Assad and the opposition, I would say that, of course, late and with a lot of mistakes, but President B. al-Assad did accept the advice. As it happens with regard to the opposition, I do not know what to advise. I have already given an example that "free Syrian army" has publicly stated that it would not implement a plan of Kofi Annan. I cannot tell if it was done on its own or following someone else's advice.
Question: As far as we know after a while a meeting of the "Group of Friends of Syria" will take place. Do you think that this could affect the activities of the "Action Group"?
S.V. Lavrov: The name "Group of Friends" is incident itself because if someone pretends to be a friend of Syria, then you need to make sure it is recognized by all Syrians. A "Group of Friends of Syria" does not work with all the opposition, but only with some of its groups. When we were preparing for the Geneva meeting, our colleagues were interested in whether you want to continue to collect so-called Friends of Syria, who in fact are "friends" to only part of the opposition, at a time when we are trying to unite the efforts of external players and act in the coordinated way. We were told that, if the meeting in Geneva ends effectively, the partners will think whether to force the convening of the next meeting of "Friends of Syria." Apparently, this does not happen - they intend to host it, but it is their right.
We expressed our position with regard to these meetings with respect to this format. I understand that you want to collect, as I recall, 140 countries, probably, many of them will come. If you do something in the format of 140 countries, it is better to make it to the UN General Assembly. Again, I cannot comment on it in terms of positive impact on the current efforts. It is a mistake if some of our partners believe that the accomplished in Geneva can only be used to further the goals that are set within the "Group of Friends of Syria." In that case, we will all find ourselves unable to negotiate.
We want the opposition to be united, but on the platform of readiness for the political dialogue with the government, as required by the plan of Kofi Annan. We will be ready to participate in those meetings that are held with the aim of uniting the opposition in a constructive political platform, and will contribute to such a union be held. It is very important. Otherwise, the government will be puzzled by those with whom it needs to speak.
Annan understands the importance of this issue and will contribute to such a union of the opposition to be held at the mentioned elements.
Question: In the document approved today the role of the President of Syria B. al-Assad is not completely clear; although the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her briefing that he should leave. Do you agree with that?
S.V. Lavrov: As you rightly pointed out, that you cannot conclude that from that document. In its original form there was a phrase that people who interfere with the world should be excluded. It does not fit the principle of inclusiveness in the political process in Syria and it does not comply with the UN Charter on non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and it also contradicts the logic of the document adopted today, which says that the Syrians themselves must decide the fate of their country in all its aspects. The thesis on the need to eliminate some from the peace process, originally proposed in the document was withdrawn at our insistence. I am talking based on the fact what was adopted today. Judge for yourself.
Thank you very much.