Russian Foreign Minister: Distinguished guests, we held talks which were useful, constructive and rich in content with His Excellency the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Al-Thani. We are proud of the level achieved in the dialogue between the two countries and discussed the situation in the bilateral relations in drafting the understandings reached during the summit meeting in Moscow last year as well as during the meeting in Sochi in August last year when I met with His Excellency and Russian President Vladimir Putin also met with him, and we stressed the existence of a positive dynamism in increasing the volume of trade, which has increased over the past year to twice in size, but nevertheless the overall figures are still modest. We agreed at the next session of the Joint Governmental Committee in Doha at the end of this month, that additional steps must be considered to support this positive trend and to increase economic cooperation. In addition to the agreement on the participation of the Qatar Investment Authority with the Russnet Company, there is also investment with the Russian Fund for direct investment and I also believe that this is a positive outlook. We have also achieved success in the field of energy in the framework of bilateral relations as well as within the framework of the dialogue between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and petroleum countries outside the framework of the forum of cooperation of the gas exporting countries.
We have also accomplished successes in cultural and humanitarian cooperation, and there is cooperation between the two countries in the context of preparations for the World Cup in 2018 in Russia and in 2022 in Qatar. There is regular dialogue on the pressing issues of the Middle East and North Africa region and above all about the Syrian crisis, the situation in Libya, Yemen, and Middle Eastern settlement as well as the Palestinian issue. We have a common position that there is a need for purely peaceful solutions to all these crises. A ceasefire must be achieved between the government and the armed opposition. It is also necessary to combat terrorism represented by Daesh and Al-Nusra, as well as to accelerate the achievement of a political solution based on Security Council resolutions. The last days have seen the emergence of a peril to the progress in all these tracks after the incident of the use of chemical weapons in Idlib, and what followed after that in the form of the illegal act of the United States when it bombed the Syrian air base. We also revealed to the Qatari side the positions and the Russian assessments of the situation, as well as the results of the talks that took place this week between us and US Secretary of State Tillerson, as well as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, as well as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif. Of course we will naturally insist on conducting a thorough, objective, professional, and impartial investigation, and we will insist under the framework of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in New York to immediately send experts and inspectors to the scene as well as to the airport where our partners from the West claim that there was the processing of missiles with chemical weapons and we very much appreciate the efforts of our friends in Qatar, which are having stabilizing effect in Libya, as well as facilitating the humanitarian problems in Syria. Also, the Qatari support for the resumption of the Palestinian delegation, which is an important condition for achieving a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. We also discussed the continued points of cooperation between Russia and the GCC. We believe that such cooperation has good prospects and we agreed to continue intensive contacts in all these points. Thank you.
HE Minister of Foreign Affairs: Thank you, Your Excellency. Today, there have been constructive points between His Excellency and I, and we will not repeat the words he mentioned about the remarkable relations and developments taking place. There is a lot of progress in the level of these relations, especially last year after His Highness's visit to Moscow and the summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin, and we heard a lot of momentum, especially in the investment sector and the efforts are continuous as well as cooperation in the gas and oil sector, and what was agreed within the framework of OPEC to maintain oil prices, and we also discussed cooperation in other fields, whether in cultural fields or sports, defense and other sectors as part of our desire to increase the size of cooperation between the two countries, and look forward to improving the level of these relations to a better level, as well as the level of Qatari relations with various Russian states.
We also discussed the framework of Russian-Gulf cooperation, and we support this forum for more progress in the relations between Russia and the Gulf Cooperation Council, and we also discussed regional issues of shared significance, and foremost the Syrian relations. Of course, under a framework, we discussed the Syrian matter, there are many points agreed upon on the Syrian matter, the importance of Syrian territorial integrity, as well as putting an end to this humanitarian crisis under the right of the Syrian people. We will not hide that there are differences on how to reach these goals, but we always rely on constructive dialogue in bridging these differences and moving them to a stage where we achieve security and stability for the Syrian people as soon as possible. All this must be in accordance with international terms of reference, especially Geneva Statement 1 and Resolution 2254.
We also discussed in the framework of the talks sponsored by Russia and Turkey in Astana, and expressed our support for these negotiations as an important contributor to the political talks in Geneva, and we also discussed the case of the tragic attack in Khan Shaykhun, which caused many civilian casualties, especially children, and we agreed with the Russian side that it is very important that there be an investigation in this incident, independent and objective, as stated by His Excellency the Minister. It is also very important that there be accountability for those responsible for these crimes and we support all efforts in this direction. We are also interested in and discussed other regional issues, especially Yemen, Libya, and Palestine. We also reaffirm our support for the unity of the Libyan territory and our support for the outcome of the political agreement, the Skhirat agreement and the National Reconciliation government. We also urge all parties who try to manipulate this agreement and its outputs to spare their personal interests, and to support this agreement and to support the government of reconciliation in order to support the realization of the aspirations of the Libyan people. As for the Palestinian cause, we support the existence of peace talks based on the resolutions of international legitimacy. We support the two-state solution, and regarding the Palestinian issue in the Russian Federation, are honorable positions in support of the right of Arab peoples in this issue and urge them to continue to support the rights of the Palestinian people to achieve their destiny. There are also shared efforts to achieve Palestinian national reconciliation, each working separately but ultimately in the interest of national unity, and we find in such meetings an opportunity to coordinate this issue and reach an agreement in the end that ends the Palestinian division.
Thank you Your Excellency for this constructive meeting, and we hope it contributes to improving the bilateral relations between our countries, and it contributes in a constructive way in other regional matters.
Question from Al-Jazeera Network: Your Excellency, Russia and Qatar announced their support for sending an independent commission of inquiry to Syria to investigate the chemical attacks in Idlib. In your opinion, do you think this commission can work in full freedom and independence in areas under the control of the regime on one side, and the authority of the opposition on the other side. And a question for Mr. Lavrov. If you agree to an international investigation in the usage of chemical weapons, and if this investigation proves the responsibility of the Syrian government, will Russia agree to establish an international tribunal for the prosecution of those responsible?
Russian Foreign Minister: In fact, we insist on the formation of an international commission of inquiry composed primarily of experts above all else, belonging to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and it should also include professional experts from the permanent members of the Security Council as well as from the European countries and countries of the region. We believe that such a step would be a formation of a commission of inquiry to ensure a better analysis of what happened and to ensure the most transparency because, until now, we believe the experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are behaving in a somewhat hidden manner. It had been announced in advance, a few days ago, that the samples were taken from the scene and transferred to the laboratory, which, as we understand, is not accredited to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and therefore we do not understand why the organization has taken such steps. We believe the members of this committee must have full access to the airport of the governmental airbase, as well as to the scene located under the control of the armed opposition. The Syrian government has sent the official invitation to the experts from the chemical organization and sent the appropriate letters to the Hague. As for the areas under the armed opposition, it had been previously announced that the leader of what is called the negotiating body, Hajeb, declared publicly that he is ready to provide all support for the investigation in this sense. This means giving security assurances to experts, and in this context, all these circumstances. There is no reason or justification for the investigation of Bonn as desired by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, so we insist that the organization must perform its functions impartially. If we succeed in conducting an investigation that is being exploited by a team of independent professional experts, I believe that the results of the observation of both the air force and the region in Idlib, where chemicals were used, will be objective. As stated by my Qatari counterpart, the perpetrators and those responsible must be held accountable, identified, and punished for the use of chemical weapons. With regard to the proposal on the establishment of courts of law, we have seen a great example in the past, and unfortunately, I don't think such courts have been very useful and enjoy a good reputation by the international community. And again, it is necessary to identify officials and to not allow them to escape accountability.
HE Minister of Foreign Affairs: As for your question about the extent to which these committees can be independent, whether in areas under the control of the regime or under areas under the control of the opposition, here comes the role of the supporting countries to achieve such a mechanism and we are ready to support the efforts of this committee and in any areas we have contact with. And I think what my Russian counterpart elaborated on about his readiness to support the committee also reaffirms their commitment to support the independence of their work in the areas under the control of the government. But more importantly, in my opinion, is that the exploitation of the committee, yes, it is important, although the outputs of this committee and its results are not activated, we see that the subject is simply the establishment of mechanisms and obstacles without becoming an effective tool and here comes the role of accounting. We must insure the full commitment of countries with the results of the investigation and oblige them to support it so that there can be accountability for the perpetrators of these crimes, because the recurrence of such crimes is simply an easy result of impunity. And here we must join our efforts so that there is no impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes under the right of civilians. The horrific scenes we saw in Khan Shaykhun cannot be allowed to be repeated. Therefore, the lack of deterrence for such crimes is a major reason for their occurrence, and if we do not establish an accountability mechanism following the results of this committee, then unfortunately, we might see incidents like this repeated in the future.
Question from a reporter: Your Excellency the Russian Foreign Minister: Did you discuss the frameworks in Astana, and did you discuss the subject of the armed opposition joining in the new session from Astana this past May, especially the inability of the armed opposition to join the past session. What is the role that the GCC states can play, especially Qatar, in promoting the end of the killing in Syria?
Your Excellency the Qatari Foreign Minister: What is the role that Qatar can play in completing the process of separating internationally classified organizations on terror lists, specifically Jabhat Al-Nusra as a moderate opposition? Today, in Idlib, Jabhat Al-Nusra has changed its name and it has many factions. What is the role that the Gulf States can play with regards to that?
Russian Foreign Minister: The Astana process is still carrying out its duties, and during the following week we will hold a meeting of experts between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the three member states, and that will be in Tehran. The meeting will discuss preparations for the new round in Astana on May 3 and 4. We are also receiving signs from the armed opposition regarding its readiness to participate in the new round. We are also joining with our friends, and we are receiving confirmations from the Turkish side which is in close communication with the opposition in an intense manner. We also discussed the subject of Astana during talks with the Minister. He assured us of his support for the process in Astana, and he assured us Qatar would provide all the support, which includes using communication channels present between Qatar and the factions on the ground, and we consider this position to be a very constructive position. We know that it is important to establish coordination for efforts between the Astana process and Qatar, and also with other Gulf states, and this is the perfect scenario for us. We believe that the appropriate situation would be for all states to send players that have interests in Syria to send clear and coordinated signals on the need for strict compliance with the cessation of hostilities by all parties. This approach was agreed upon in Astana. Naturally, the approach of cessation of hostilities does not include the regulations described as terrorist by the UN Security Council so you understand that the participation of one faction or another in this approach and its halting dealing with Daesh and Al-Nusra, this is the criterion for separating terrorists and moderates.
HE Minister of Foreign Affairs: With regards to the question about the role that Qatar plays in separating the Syrian opposition from the terrorist organizations. Of course, in the beginning, the State of Qatar condemns all terrorist and criminal actions, and anything else under the context of terrorism, which would terrorize civilians and change reality through the use of violence, and this applies to terrorist organizations, whether they are on the list of the Security Council or even the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, who are also under the resolutions of the Security Council, and their use of violence, and which can sometimes fall under crimes against humanity, especially those practiced by extremist organizations like Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and foreign terrorist fighters that come from extremist backgrounds.
Of course, there are important factors to achieve separation between the moderate armed opposition and the terrorist organizations. The most important of these factors is to provide the appropriate environment for finding a political solution, and also to show signs of hope that there is something that will bring hope to instead of despair that may sometimes force them to fight alongside these terrorist organizations. And while we don't justify this work, and we strongly condemn it, we must join forces to create conditions for them so that there will be a complete separation, and the Syrian opposition and the Syrian people will be the strongest weapon in the face of terrorism and against terrorist organizations.
Reporter question from Al-Mayadeen channel: Greetings, Your Excellency's. I have questions for both of you. My question for the Russian Foreign Minister: We read in the Western media, specifically an article in The Telegraph, around the Syrian General that ran and defected from the regime, and it is said that he has a connection to the chemical program in Syria, and he said that the Syrian government still has tons of hundreds of chemical weapons and managed to hide it from inspectors of the chemical organization. Don't you think the appearance of these articles serves to undermine efforts for an objective investigation, and also destroys all the progress you mentioned today and yesterday, and during the talks with Tillerson?
Question for the Qatari Foreign Minister: As of yesterday, a humanitarian operation has been occurring in Syria supported by the State of Qatar. We have also learned from the media of an agreement between you and the Islamic Republic of Iran to evacuate civilians from some areas in Syria, we heard today that this process is stumbling somewhat due to the intervention of some armed groups, specifically the Ahrar- Al-Sham group. What information do you have regarding completing this process, and do you have any intention to complete this process in some areas of Syria, taking into consideration, as you said today, in this press conference, that you are against changing the demographic map, and against the abuse and disruption of Syrian unity?
Russian Foreign Minister: I saw the article about the dissident General, and it is said in this article that he defected in 2013, and in the same year, we reached an agreement with the United States, and we enjoyed support at The Hague and in New York on the deactivation of the arsenal of chemical weapons in Syria, and Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention during that period. And in accordance with this Russian-American agreement, in 2014, the chemical organization received statements from the Syrian government regarding precautions for chemicals present in Syria, and the organization approved this information in 2014, and the total volume of chemicals that was destroyed and recorded was 1.3,000 tons, while the dissident General announced that there were about 2,000 tons of chemicals in Syria, and because of this declaration, the number 1300 tons was announced. For your information, I have a question. Why has this General been silent during these past few years, because 700 tons of chemicals is very large amount and difficult to conceal, as is the case with the sample that was found in Iraq and shown at the Security Council. Therefore, I believe that all reasonable parties understand that this General has been motivated either by stick or by carrot. Regarding the discrepancies in numbers, this is the real reality. The chemical organization recently announced that it had found a 200-ton shortage of chemicals that existed in Libya and then faded away.
This is extremely dangerous because Libya has turned into a crossing for terrorists and weapons smugglers, and it is impermissible to overlook that. All the Russian requests towards the chemical organization and our partners in the West have been met with responses in the form of thoughts that all these chemicals have faded in the real sense. It would be right, therefore, to deal with this real-life issue rather than to think about what happened three years ago.
HE Minister of Foreign Affairs: As for the question about the agreement of the four villages of Kafriya, Al-Fahwa, Madaya, and Zabadani, of course the process was initially purely humanitarian. It started in 2015, despite the fact that there are 65, 000 civilians besieged regardless of their ethnic or sectarian backgrounds. We do not look at them in terms of this principle, but we consider them because they are all civilians and Syrians, under siege and starvation. It is known that such agreements find many obstacles, and contribute to the efforts between the parties and the pre-mediator to resolve such obstacles. It had been agreed several times in the past that they didn’t specify the required level of success in past times. This time, however, we see that there is progress in the implementation. Of course, many of the obstacles appeared during the past two days, and not just before the opposition, but also before the two parties. We know as a mediator how to solve these problems, and we have resolved many of them. There are still obstacles and we are working to resolve them. Of course, on the subject of the circulation of this agreement and the question of demographic change which you referred to, things have to be put under the correct context. The State of Qatar will not contribute to any demographic change in Syria because as I mentioned to you in the past, we don’t see these villages in terms of being Sunni villages or Shia villages, we look at them as besieged Syrians. The social fabric of Syria, which has been built over the centuries with all the ethnicities and sects, the State of Qatar did not contribute to its destruction, and we will not adopt or follow any agreement to that effect. The agreement that was signed is a voluntary departure, and there is a choice for those who want to stay.
Of course, there is a siege on these villages, and there is a difficult humanitarian situation that the civilians are going through over there. Therefore, the main element of the agreement is the issue of the entry of humanitarian aid and the opening of humanitarian corridors on permanent basis. The provisions of the agreement also stipulate that imprisoned politicians should be released from the regime’s prisons, and the majority of them are women. The humanitarian dimensions of this agreement far exceed the narrow vision of criticizing this agreement only for demographic change. Demographic change was not a part of Qatar’s intention as a mediator, and it won’t be in any future agreement. As for implementing this kind of mechanism on other villages, if we see that we can contribute in a positive way to achieve peace and calm, then we will not hesitate to play such role. But, there must be a will from the parties to convene such agreements. What happened in the case of the agreement of the four villages is dialogue between the conflicting parties, and the State of Qatar provided them the platform for dialogue, and helped in facilitating this dialogue between them and facilitating its implementation.
Question from a reporter: Russia Today. My question is for His Excellency the Russian Foreign Minister. The Ukrainian President of the Security Council announced that the priority for the Ukrainian military is to move forwards toward the east, and not to exceed the borders with Russia. In your opinion, is it high time for an emergency meeting under the Normandy framework, and how can we consolidate the commitments regarding the Minsk agreement?
Russian foreign Minister: We are and have long been skeptical of the mental health of Ukrainian politicians and even before this statement. I call this an offensive aggressive rhetoric from President Poroshonko and Parubiy, and this means that Ukraine, as a leadership and government, has no desire to implement the Minsk agreement with regard to security matters, especially considering that in principle, from a formal aspect, President Yuschchenko used to insist that the most important things in the agreement were security measures, and the security problems haven’t been resolved. He refuses to discuss the political process, and this statement from Mr. Torshinaov means that Kiev doesn’t want to implement the Minsk agreement, especially from the side that Kiev considers a priority and is an irreplaceable part of the Minsk agreement. It is clear for everyone that such an approach that the Ukrainian leadership follows is a deliberate approach, and that means that Kiev does not choose to be satisfied by the will of its sponsors in Europe, and the Kremlin press office has already commented on this regard. This means that in the near future, under the Normandy framework, it shall be commented upon and this important matter will be discussed.