Statement of S.V. Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, at the Meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the League of Arab States member countries, Cairo, 10 March 2012

Submitted on Mon, 03/12/2012 - 23:00

Thank you. I thank you for the honor and opportunity.

We have always cherished our relationship with the Arab League and its members. We have developed very solid traditions in this cooperation and I believe that this interaction is more urgent today than before given the transformation which is going on in the region.

The Russian Federation immediately supported the aspirations of the peoples of the Arab countries for better life, democracy, for reform. We watch with close interest the new political forces appearing in the region, including those who rely more on traditional Islamic values of Arab societies, and this is a natural process for us. You know that in my country Muslims are one of the indigenous peoples who have lived for centuries in the territory of the present Russian Federation and who enjoy all rights and freedoms in accordance with our Constitution. We are convinced that the new people who come to power in various countries will be faithful to the slogans under which they are transforming the countries, namely the respect for human rights, religious and ethnic minorities’ rights and tolerance. We are certainly ready to work with everyone who is in favour of creation rather than destruction. We have been encouraging peaceful evolutionary changes. We have had enough revolutions during several centuries of the history of my country. The price was millions of human lives, and sufferings, and destruction. And we don’t want this experience to be repeated again for our own country or for any other country because this as I said is bringing sufferings to the people – to the ordinary people.

We have been watching the region with concern because all of your countries are our friends and because what is happening in this region has influence on outside situation including the global stability and security. We certainly believe that all outside actors must be extremely careful in addressing the problems which your countries are facing. We have been strongly in favour of sticking to the international law, the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in domestic affairs of states, not to mention military interference against the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Sometimes the Russian position is being commented upon, some people say that we have vested interests in this region. To this I want to say the following: my country never waged colonial wars here. We always have been supporting the right of the peoples of the Arab world for independence and free development. And if you take the volume of economic ties with any of your countries than what we have unfortunately in trade and economy is incomparably lower than the volume of trade and economic ties with your countries by other outside partners. So we are not looking for any special price, for any geopolitical interest here, in this region. We have been trying to promote immediate resolution of the crisis in Syria. From the very beginning we supported the Arab League initiative adopted on November 2 last year, and we have invested a lot of efforts to persuade Damascus to agree to this initiative, just as we persuaded Damascus some time later to receive the Arab League observer mission, which, we believe, had a stabilizing effect and it’s unfortunate that it could not continue. We are not protecting any regimes. We protect international law. And I believe that we all agree when we talk on Syria that the immediate task now is to end violence irrespective of the source, like the Arab League initiative of November 2 says, and to allow humanitarian assistance to all those who are in need of it, to be delivered freely in a way which is expeditious. If we all agree to this, then we shall not really engage in discussing who is to blame. This could be done later by the authorities, by international structures who are empowered to do this. But today it’s the most urgent task to end all violence irrespective of where it comes from. And for this, I believe, we have to employ our respective leverages with all those who are fighting each other inside Syria.

We have introduced a new concept recently when the Security Council was discussing this issue, that for this to happen it is very important to have an independent impartial monitoring mechanism which would be empowered to see how the obligation to end all violence is being implemented by all. Then, as I said, unimpeded unhampered access of humanitarian assistance under the United Nations umbrella, and we welcome the visit of Valerie Amos to Damascus, who, I think, expressed satisfaction with the results achieved at this stage, but we do want more arrangements on the basis of the proposals which we left with the Syrian government and we encourage them to agree this full mechanism for humanitarian aid delivery as soon as possible. And, of course, we welcome the appointment of Kofi Annan as a joint special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League. I met with Kofi Annan yesterday night, he is in Syria today, and I believe he is keenly interested in talking to all parties and to finding common basis which would create conditions to start what the Arab League called for – Syrian-led, inclusive political dialogue between the government and all opposition groups in Syria. So, we have been in favor of the Security Council to immediately endorse the November 2 initiative. Together with China, we prepared a draft resolution; unfortunately, some of our partners in the Security Council were not prepared to take it; and then there were alternative resolutions – one on February 4 that we had to veto together with China, and we didn’t understand the rush in which this was put to a vote. Unfortunately, some Member States in the Security Council were driven not by the desire to reach consensus but by considerations which are not really related to consensus-building. The biggest problem was the request…I mean, the resolution rightly endorsed the principle that there must be cessation of all violence irrespective of the source. But then when this principle was translated into specific demands, the problem began. The Government was demanded to do everything which the Arab League wanted it to do and we supported this. But we also believed that the armed groups should be asked to withdraw from towns and cities as the Government army units are doing the same, in other words, that cities and towns should be vacated by all people with arms in their hands at the same time under some monitoring to verify that this is indeed happening.

Our partners were insisting that first the Government army units must leave completely and then the armed groups would be asked to do the same. It is not that we are taking the side of anyone, least of all any specific regimes, it’s about this particular approach being totally unrealistic and, therefore, that resolution did not have a chance to be implemented. If that was the purpose of the sponsors - to make a resolution which is unimplementable and then a couple of weeks later to say – You see, this does not work, let’s do something tougher – then this is not the way we agreed to negotiate a consensual approach in the Security Council. We are still open to it, the latest resolution which was discussed the day before yesterday in the Security Council (P5 plus Morocco) – I am sure this was already broadly leaked into the media – this resolution has a chance to be agreed provided that we are all guided not by the desire to support the opposition armed groups to win the battle in the cities but if we are driven by the desires to make sure that there is no fighting in the cities and towns, then relevant proposals are on the table and we have plenty of opportunities to agree on them. So, we are in favor of, as I said, the approach which would be driven by the urgent need to stop violence, to deliver humanitarian assistance and to start the political dialogue, and I quote from the Arab League decision, "Syrian-lead, inclusive, between the Government and all opposition groups". Given this principle, enunciated by the Arab League, we could not understand the logic, the concept of the Friends of Syria meeting, which took place in Tunisia, because the Syrians were represented by only one out of several opposition groups, not to mention that the Government was not invited. So, I hope that this is not what people mean by inclusiveness of the dialogue which we all want to start or, rather, to promote and to help it get started.

Of course when people discuss Syria, Iran every now and then is being mentioned. I will not go into the details on Iran. There was a good statement of the 5+1 Group in Vienna at the end of the Governing Board of IAEA regular session. And this statement adopted by consensus by the European Troika, the United States, Russia and China was circulated, you would read it. We are strongly in favor of peaceful resolution of this situation. But speaking of what some people say discussing Syria and discussing Iran, we have been deeply concerned by some hints that this is all about, or to a large extent about, the competition, quite tough competition, confrontation I would even say, between Sunni and Shia. We are not, you know, foreign to the Islam, as I said: Muslims have been living on our soil for centuries and centuries, and we are concerned that this, apart from exerting, you know, damage on the Muslim world in general, it could also affect us, many other countries where Muslims live, and it could also affect non-Muslims in this region, because in any critical situation they also suffer. And, of course, among non-Muslims here Christians are also represented, and by definition we have concern for their future and their fate. Having said this, I do not believe that these turbulent developments in the region justify the Palestinian issue to be sidelined. We have been all along promoting more active role of the Quartet in coordination with the Arab League. Not all partners in the Quartet are ready yet for this type of coordination, but Russia has been for the last several years strongly promoting the Quartet getting closer to the wisdom of the countries of the region. And we welcome the initiatives taken by the Arab League and by its members, in particular the effort of our Jordanian friends to start the Oman process. We believe that there was some progress upon which it is important to build. I will not go into the details. I will just flag in this audience the urgent need not to allow the Palestinian issue to get lost in all these springs, autumns, and winters. We hope that the day after tomorrow in New York the Quartet would meet. As I said, the proposal by Russia to invite the Arab League representatives was not shared by everyone. So it would be just the Quartet. But we believe it is important at this stage without any preconceived results to take stock of where we are and how the statement of the Quartet dated September 23 has been responded to by the parties. One thing on Libya. We have been very clear on welcoming the efforts of the current authorities in Tripoli to stabilize the situation on the basis of the Constitutional declaration adopted last August. We are ready to help in tackling the challenges. We expect the authorities to respect the rights, the human rights, to prevent the smuggling of arms out of Libya. Unfortunately, this is taking place. And we are grateful to the partners in the Security Council for supporting the Russian initiative to adopt Resolution 2017 with which, of course, the Libyan side is cooperating. I think it is important. And I also believe that we have to take a good note of the remaining challenges in Libya, including the challenge of separatism. It is up to the Libyan people to decide how they want to live, but I do believe that territorial integrity is crucial to make sure that all the challenges, all the revolutionary and other processes which are taking place, that they do not lead to huge destabilization of the region which is crucial for the world’s stability.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that we view the cooperation with the Arab League and its members as our strategic priority. On our agenda: launching of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum. The first session was to be held in Moscow last year, but because of the transformation and the Arab Spring it had to be postponed, and we welcome the decision of the Arab League Council to hold this meeting this year. We are already getting ready for this; there have been a couple of meetings of our Joint Working Committee, and the third one will take place soon to finalize the work on the Joint Statement and the Action Plan for the next three years on the issues of common interest where we together can make a difference, and of course in cooperation with other partners who are involved in resolution of the problems on the agenda in front of us. We are confident that Russian-Arab cooperation continues to rest on a solid and reliable foundation, and we will be in favor of keeping it this way.

I thank you for your attention.