Thursday, April 13, 2017

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, April 12, 2017

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of the Republic of Senegal Mankeur Ndiaye
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of the Republic of Senegal Mankeur Ndiaye will come to Russia on a working visit on April 16-18. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with him on April 17.
Russia and Senegal maintain a constructive and substantive political dialogue based on shared perceptions of global processes, including the creation of a polycentric world order as a more fair and safe system of international relations. Meaningful cooperation is underway in various multilateral formats, including the UN, given the non-permanent membership of Senegal in the Security Council in 2016-2017.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye will discuss key issues of the global and regional agenda with an emphasis on settling conflicts on the African continent and in the Middle East, as well as fighting international terrorism.
A focus of the forthcoming talks will be promoting mutually beneficial trade, economic and investment cooperation between Russia and Senegal. Trade between our two countries amounted to over $82 million in 2016. An in-depth exchange of views on ways to improve business ties in the sphere of fisheries, geological prospecting, and mining will be held. Cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, in particular, training Senegalese specialists at Russian institutions of higher education, where about 25 citizens of that country are currently studying, is an important area of ​​our relations.
We look forward to Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of the Republic of Senegal Mankeur Ndiaye’s upcoming visit to Moscow giving an additional impetus to joint efforts to unlock the potential of the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries.

Talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Foreign and Expatriates Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem

Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem will pay a working visit to Russia on April 13-15 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
During the talks, the ministers will discuss the situation in Syria, which came under attack and continues to be attacked by international terrorists, and was also subjected to military aggression by the United States. I will say more about this later. Possible joint steps to minimise the negative consequences of this gross violation of international law for international and regional peace and security will be considered.

Trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,  Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif

On April 14, Moscow will host a trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,  Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem and Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Talks will mainly focus on the military and political situation in Syria. The participants will discuss measures for trilateral coordination in order to prevent the degradation of the situation and undermining of efforts for a political settlement in Syria amid Washington’s military aggression against Damascus.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani

On April 15, Moscow will host talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, which will continue the good tradition of bilateral contacts and the discussion of the situation in the region.
During these talks, the ministers will exchange views on a wide range of current issues on the regional and international agenda and the further development of bilateral relations.
The Moscow meeting will allow for coordination on key topics in the Middle East, with an emphasis on searching for ways to settle crisis situations there and the need to resolutely counter the threat of international terrorism.
The current situation in and around Syria is expected to be a focus. The ministers will discuss the military and political developments in Syria and prospects for promoting a political process with constructive international assistance.
Particular attention will be paid to the further development of Russian-Qatar relations, including the maintenance of regular political dialogue and the expansion of trade and economic ties. In this regard, the parties will discuss the progress in implementing agreements achieved at the Russian-Qatar high-level meeting in January 2016 in Moscow.
We will provide additional information on all of the contacts just mentioned and publish expanded materials following their completion.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to the Republic of Abkhazia

In accordance with an agreement, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Abkhazia on April 18-19.
On April 18, Mr Lavrov will take part in the opening ceremony of the new Russian Embassy compound in Abkhazia.
On April 19, Mr Lavrov will hold talks in Sukhum with Abkhazian President Raul Khajimba and Abkhazian Foreign Minister Daur Kove, during which there are plans to exchange opinions on key issues of bilateral relations, consolidation of Abkhazia’s international position and coordination of Russian-Abkhazian foreign policy cooperation.
Mr Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Abkhazia is meant to give more impetus to developing Russian-Abkhazian relations based on the principles of alliance and strategic partnership, and also to strengthen cooperation between our countries’ foreign ministries. 

Russia’s position on space cooperation

As you know, today is Cosmonautics Day, and I would like to wish you a happy one. Traditionally it is observed on a wide scale as an important event. Cosmonautics Day (International Day of Human Space Flight declared by the UN) is a good opportunity for focusing on some of the most important aspects of Russia’s space activity, in particular its international dimension.
Developing the country’s space capabilities is one of Russia’s national priorities, as President Putin has repeatedly stated. Designed through 2025, the Federal Space Programme provides for the development of all fundamental areas, including the study of planets of the solar system and the moon with the help of automated spacecraft and a manned space flight programme. I would like to draw your attention once again, considering that members of international media outlets are present here, and it is very important for us to make our assessments and our vision of this area of international cooperation clear to our foreign partners.
Russia is ensuring guaranteed access to outer space from its territory. Foreign policy priorities have been defined and are being consistently followed. Russia advocates the peaceful use of outer space and the prevention of an arms race in space.
Back in 2008, a Russian-Chinese draft international treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force against outer space objects was submitted for consideration to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 2014 an amended version of that document was submitted.
Essentially the only state that is opposed to the international community’s efforts in this area is the US. Under these circumstances, to enhance mutual confidence and transparency, back in 2004, Russia assumed a unilateral political commitment not to be the first to place weapons in outer space, and urged all responsible countries to follow suit. Many of them, including those that have significant space potential, have already become full participants to this initiative. Even more countries have co-sponsored a corresponding resolution of the UN General Assembly, which has been approved by an overwhelming majority of votes for three years in a row. Today, the international initiative regarding no first placement of weapons in outer space is the most effective, viable, cost-free, and transparent confidence-building measure in this sphere and it is gaining momentum. Of course, the main goal is to prevent an arms race in outer space.
It is noteworthy that back in 2005, at the Russia-EU summit in Moscow, an agreement was reached on combined efforts to prevent an arms race in space. We believe that these agreements still stand. We therefore have quite a few questions about the EU’s collective position, which was formed under pressure from Washington and obligates all EU countries to refrain from endorsing this simple and understandable resolution of the UN General Assembly for the third time in a row, which calls for dialogue in this area without even requiring any new obligations from EU countries, which cannot boast independence in their actions.
Furthermore, at the UN Outer Space Committee in Vienna, Russia put forward a host of important proposals designed to ensure the safety of space operations and the preservation of outer space as a secure, stable and conflict-free environment. Substantive talks are under way.
We are ready to work constructively on all these issues with all states in the interest of preserving the peaceful skies over our planet.
This is the first time we are observing this day and this holiday without our outstanding cosmonaut Georgy Grechko. He will forever remain in our hearts. His shining memory will live on. We regard everything that he has done for the development of the space industry and international cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space as an invaluable contribution. His name has been inscribed in gold letters not only in national history but also in the world history of cosmonautics.

The situation in Venezuela

We’re receiving a lot of requests to explain Moscow’s position on this issue. 
We’re watching with concern the situation in Venezuela, a country with which we maintain friendly relations, where opposition activists continue to clash with law-enforcers, even with the Easter holidays approaching. We feel sorry for the people who were killed or injured in street violence that is spiralling out of control. We cannot help mentioning a growing risk that the destructive scenarios which we have spoken about time and again and have warned against and which call to mind the grievous events in Chile in the 1970s might be implemented.  
We believe that non-violence offers a way to end political confrontation – this is exactly our vision of how to resolve the political crisis and resume nationwide dialogue for the sake of searching jointly for answers and solutions to the socioeconomic challenges facing the country.
In this context, we’re concerned about the statements by the US Southern Command to the effect that further aggravation of the crisis in Venezuela might require a prompt response at a regional level. It should be understood that statements like these are adding to the instability, escalating the situation in that country. They cannot be treated otherwise than words to encourage Venezuelan radicals to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability and incite violent confrontation. We consider the fact that tensions are running high in Venezuela to be a very dangerous trend. Honestly, in our view, this would hardly be in the interests of the United States and the entire international community, including the countries in the region.   
We would like to say again that all political processes unfolding in Venezuela should be strictly in line with the constitution, keep to both its letter and spirit in full, and comply with the governing laws. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of Venezuela’s internal problems reached at the negotiating table and in compliance with the constitution – and there cannot be any. 

Results of Russian MPs’ work at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 136th Assembly in Dacca and the 137thAssembly in St Petersburg this October

Last week, the capital of Bangladesh, Dacca, hosted the 136th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I would like to note the positive results of the Russian delegation’s work.
At the Assembly’s plenary session the Inter-Parliamentary Union adopted a resolution initiated by our country on the role of parliaments in observing the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states.
We repeatedly observed such actions in the past, including in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya, and now we can see attempts to do the same in Syria. The resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority of the delegations, despite the expected resistance from representatives of several western countries.
Also important was the support for the Russian initiative to establish a working group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Executive Committee on Syria. This group’s mandate is to include developing measures, to be accepted by the global parliamentary community, to promote an open and universal political settlement in Syria and also to support effective global efforts in fighting international terrorism in the region.
The group will have an opportunity to visit where events are happening, in particular, Syria. It will consist of representatives of the Executive Committee (besides Russia, the wish to participate was expressed by France, the Netherlands, Iran and Namibia) and of all six geopolitical groups in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The IPU Executive Committee has invited both the Syrian Parliament and representatives of the opposition to cooperate within the framework of the group. Russia’s representative (Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Federation Council) will be the coordinator of this working group.
This can be considered a continuation of efforts toward an intra-Syrian settlement made by Russian MPs. This settlement is developing in addition to TV link-ups with colleagues from Syria, Iran and European countries and trips to Syria together with European MPs. In our opinion, all this is having a perceptible effect and European MPs’ attitude to the events in that country is gradually changing. Our aim is not to steer it in an advantageous direction for us but to make it non-biased, impartial and independent, instead of going with the flow.
Participants in the Assembly in Dacca offered their condolences for the tragedy in St Petersburg and expressed solidarity with the people of St Petersburg and all Russia.
I would like to remind you that the next IPU Assembly will take place in Russia. We can say that in Dacca, Bangladesh passed the baton as host to St Petersburg. There was a presentation on this city on the Neva River and a discussion of key issues on the agenda of the autumn session of 2017.
In particular, there are plans to adopt another resolution in St Petersburg, initiated by Russia and dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Democracy. The resolution will acknowledge the absence of a universal model of democracy and the fact that democracy is not the exclusive privilege of a certain country or region.
It should be emphasised that, for its part, Russia will spare no effort to make the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 137th Assembly a success.

The situation in Syria

The military-political situation in Syria sharply deteriorated following the massive US strike on April 7 against the al-Shayrat airfield where Syrian Air Force planes are based. In this room, as well as for many other audiences, we have given an extended evaluation of that, issuing corresponding statements and explanations and making comments. As is known, Russia responded to that outright act of aggression against a sovereign UN member state by suspending the Russian-US memorandum on the prevention of air incidents in the course of operations in Syria. A corresponding explanation was provided via both the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. Washington’s use of force is a serious challenge not only to regional but also to international security.
Unfortunately, there is no stopping anti-Russian forces in the West, which are bent on wiping out the positive achievements on the path toward a peace settlement. They were put in place mainly through the efforts of Russia and its partners in the Astana process, as well as the efforts of UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his team in Geneva.
Some western media outlets are not above peddling these fake news stories and outright slander. Consider, for example, the AP report of April 11 citing a high-ranking US official as saying that Russia knew about Syria’s coming chemical weapons attack in advance!
How can we comment on this? These news stories can only be commented on in the same spirit. Let’s try to do the same today. Maybe those across the ocean knew about the terrorists’ coming provocation and so targeted their cruise missiles at Syria’s al-Shayrat airport in advance. Are these the kinds of polemics we will engage in or will we talk in a constructive manner? Will we destroy the media with these fake reports or will we come to understand the need for a responsible approach toward dealing with long-running international problems? Would it not be better first to understand what really happened at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 and ensure, as Russia immediately proposed, an impartial, objective and professional international investigation on the ground with the participation of OPCW experts? Unfortunately, our colleagues chose to act differently.
Our partners’ actions consists of constantly repeating the “vial of white powder” show at the UN Security Council that the US used to justify the need to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in the early 2000s. The comparisons are not simply appropriate, they are self-evident. There is only one “but” here: the situation today is far more dangerous, because a new bloody and insidious player has emerged – international terrorism, as represented by ISIS, al-Nusra and other Al Qaeda affiliates. How they evolved, as a result of what countries’ mistakes and in what region – I believe we have talked enough about that to repeat it today.
Independent experts from the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), a Swedish NGO, have questioned the videos of the “victims of the chemical attack” that were accompanied by comments in Arabic as to how best to position a child in front of a camera.
As before, we urge our partners for equal cooperation based on mutual respect in the interest of achieving the most important goals on the international agenda today: eliminating the seat of international terrorism in Syria and reaching a political settlement in that country.

 To be continued...

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