From Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation
April 17, 2017
Question: Can you comment on rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, taking into account US Vice President Mike Pence’s comment that the era of strategic patience is over in relations with North Korea and that all options are on the table to achieve security in the region?
Sergey Lavrov: I wouldn’t describe relations between North Korea and the Obama administration as an era of strategic patience, because the United States greatly restricted North Korea’s ability to develop the industries that could promote the nuclear or energy sectors. The UN Security Council adopted harsh sanctions against North Korea and condemned its policy.
If the figure of speech used by the US Vice President can be understood as a threat of a unilateral military solution, it is a highly risky path. We condemn Pyongyang’s opportunistic nuclear missile plans, which violate the numerous UN Security Council resolutions. But this does not mean that other countries can violate international law and use military force contrary to the UN Charter. I strongly hope that no unilateral actions will be taken similar to those we have recently seen in Syria, and that the United States will pursue the line President Donald Trump put forth during his election campaign.
Question: Can you comment on the statement by the US National Security Adviser Army Lieutenant General McMaster that “it’s time though, now, to have those tough discussions” with Russia over its support for Syria’s government and its “subversive actions” in Europe?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a complex question. I have no desire to comment on the unsubstantiated accusations made against Russia. First they concerned Ukraine, and now the focus has shifted to Syria. I have seen media reports that US or British officials are saying that they could cooperate with Russia if it [behaved] in Ukraine and, Syria, and now the Korean Peninsula has been added to the list. It appears that we must do something for somebody on the Korean Peninsula too, although we did not create the chaos that is reigning there. ISIS, and before it, al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, are the offspring of opportunistic projects that involved our Western partners, primarily many US administrations, which began by supporting the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and praising them as freedom fighters, and continued this policy in Iraq and Libya. And now that these countries have been ruined, it appears that we must pay for the consequences. This is not how partners act. This approach is not acceptable to us. We will not listen to what President Trump’s adviser has said, but what President Trump himself has said, that he is optimistic when it comes to improving relations with Russia. We are ready for this.
Question: What issues are on the agenda of the upcoming Geneva meeting on the intra-Syrian settlement? Will it be political issues only, or will military issues also be discussed, in light of the recent air strike on the Syrian airfield and the coalition landing operation near Deir Ez-Zor?
Sergey Lavrov: The talks in Geneva will be held after May 3–4, that is, following a regular meeting in Astana. We hope that the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura, will find a suitable date. It has been suggested that since the holy month of Ramadan begins in late May, it would be expedient to postpone the talks until after it ends. We are convinced that we must not lose momentum, especially in a situation when the political process has been brought into question. I am referring to the strike on the Shayrat airfield and the intention of many players in Syria, among the external opposition and in many countries in and outside the region, to use this situation to place the blame squarely on Bashar al-Assad. They seek to deviate from a political settlement through the expression of the will of the Syrian people themselves to conduct unilateral actions to overthrow the Syrian government. It is an alarming trend. As I have said, in pursuit of this goal, they are using the April 4 chemical weapons incident in Idlib, which was followed by the illegal US air strike on the airfield from which planes allegedly carrying chemical weapons took off. I have said repeatedly that we demand that an objective and unbiased investigation be carried out under the auspices of the OPCW with assistance from independent experts, and that this investigation be fully transparent.
I would like to remind you that we have pointed out a very strange coincidence: that the two groups of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria are chaired by UK citizens. We have said that this runs contrary to the principles of an international organisation, the structures of which must be maximally balanced. We have not received any response as yet, but we can regard a recent statement by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as an indirect response. He said in an interview that Damascus and Russia and Iran, which support it, are to blame for the chemical attack. By way of evidence, he said that British scientists have analysed samples from the site of the attack, and that these have tested positive for sarin or a sarin-like substance. That’s an interesting coincidence: British citizens chairing the OPCW FFM don’t tell anyone anything, while British scientists have already analysed samples taken at the site of the incident. I believe we will be sending a request to the OPCW today demanding an explanation. I expect they will have to answer this time.
The situation is not simple at all. We hope that the majority of countries see what is going on. We will not permit anyone to derail the efforts to attain a political settlement in Syria under the UN Security Council resolution.