17.03.04. Transcript of Remarks and Answers to Questions from Russian and Foreign Media by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference at Russian MFA Press Center, Moscow, March 17, 2004

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Thanks for your responding to our invitation and coming to the press conference which I am holding for the first time in my new capacity. I would like today to begin our immediate acquaintance in the spirit of the openness that has been characterizing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' relations with the press in the last few years. I hope that you share these assessments.

The objectives of Russian foreign policy are defined. They are confirmed in the Foreign Policy Concept, approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin. At this moment the task is to implement this Concept in its strategic guidelines in a continuously changing world today. I think that the MFA staff are ready for this, they are actively working despite the objective difficulties that have appeared in recent years. As the minister, I will do everything to ensure that this work is maintained at the proper level, as demanded by President Putin.

Of course, internal political processes cannot but reflect on our work. The reform of the government, which has just taken place, is meant to secure a disposition for effectiveness and for energetic actions. As far as foreign policy is concerned, our enormous mainstay is the nationwide consensus that has taken shape in recent years during Putin's first period of presidency, the nationwide agreement regarding Russia's national interests, which are simple and understandable. We want to live in the conditions of security for the country and the citizenry. We want this security to be ensured around the perimeter of our borders, both externally and within the country. In addition, our interests consist of seeing Russia further consolidated as a state, its economy growing competitive and, most important, the people feeling these results. We shall devote all of our energies to establishing favorable external conditions for the achievement of these tasks.

Question: What will the new aspects of Russian foreign policy be, including towards the Arab world?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Sensations probably shouldn't be awaited. We must have a continuity in foreign policy. We are convinced that quite good results have been achieved over the last four years. One can hardly say that results in some area have been achieved definitively and all the matters are closed, but movement has been set in each of the key areas of international life and we shall proceed with it. This concerns the Middle East and Iraq as well. A comprehensive and necessarily collective approach is needed to this region. I think that the Iraq crisis and the subsequent developments around Iraq have left no doubts in anyone that it is only together, and with the interrelationship of the region's problems taken into account, that all these problems can be solved.

As to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the key task is the implementation of the Road Map. In the UN we exerted quite a lot of efforts to resolve this crisis. The Russian side put forward the initiative for the Road Map being given an international legal status. A special resolution was adopted making the Road Map binding upon the parties. Now the Palestinians and the Israelis alike should carry out their obligations. We have been actively promoting this as a cosponsor of the Middle East peace process and a member of the Quartet together with our partners in this mechanism (the US, EU and UN). The latest developments in this region show convincingly the unalternative character of the Road Map, which is acknowledged by both parties.

On Iraq our stand remains invariable. Developments go the way the Russian leadership predicted they would. We are convinced that the sooner all the parties, including the Iraqis themselves, agree to the allotment to the UN of a central role in the settlement process, the better it will be both for Iraq and for the entire region. Of course, this can only happen after the completion of the occupation process. When this occurs and when the UN with the consent of the Iraqi people assume coordinating functions for the completion of the political process, this may give a very important impetus to solving the problems of other parts of the Persian gulf area and the Middle East region as a whole. If you like, this will have a basic significance for the formation of the understanding of just what it is, the "Greater Middle East" and how to strive for its reconstruction. Here the principles are clear - it is, above all, the approaches of the region's countries themselves and their support by the international community.

Question: How soon do you plan to meet with your US counterpart and what questions are meant to be discussed at this meeting? Could you tell us about your upcoming schedule?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Regarding my schedule I cannot say precisely so far. For today and for the next few days a number of meetings and telephone conversations are planned. Today I am to meet with the Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia, who is arriving in Moscow for conversations with Igor Ivanov.

I have twice conversed with US Secretary of State Colin Powell over the phone since my appointment. The nearest scheduled meeting is due in May as part of the ministerial of the Eight on preparations for the G8 Summit, which will be held in June. Also Powell and I will meet in Berlin at the beginning of April, within the framework of the conference on Afghanistan.

But so far I have not yet fully "learned " all of my schedule.

Question: How do you feel about the statement of the new leaders of Spain about their intentions to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq? Please comment on the stand of Russia on the role of the UN and its Security Council in the settlement of international conflicts?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Regarding the first question I can say that it is up to the new government of Spain to decide to leave their troops in Iraq or not. I do not think that I should comment on this theme. In general terms, I shall say that the security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate and this is one more serious argument in favor of having the processes of political settlement radically changed and speeded up. Changed, above all, in terms of providing the UN with a central role.

We are for the central UN role in settling the majority of international crises and conflicts. When we are talking about the world pattern and about the direction in which this world pattern is moving, we presume as regards fundamental considerations that after the Cold War a new system has not yet taken shape. In the conditions of globalization, when the rigid limiters of bloc confrontation, which in some way or other had been restraining many conflicts, have crumbled and when conflicts flare up in places of previous crises and there appear new sore spots and flashpoints, it is very difficult to find a universal answer that would be applicable in all cases. In the conditions of globalization and the mounting new threats and challenges, above all the threat of terrorism and WMD proliferation, a search is under way for a new system. It is being conducted very often by touch, on the understanding that there are no uniform recipes, that a general framework is needed to help solve those issues. The basic ideas, which in this connection are not only being put forward, but also applied in practice, consist in whether to tackle these problems by unilateral methods or collectively. Collective actions, moreover, can be most diverse. Acting collectively may be countries of a region that assume the responsibility for solving the problems of their part of the world. Similarly organizations could act in which the instruments and mechanisms for crisis management are established. Coalitions may be established on a one-off basis. All these mechanisms are being used at various points, be it in Sierra Leone, Liberia or other parts of Africa or in Afghanistan or in the Balkans. In the overwhelming majority of cases, and practically always of late, such collective mechanisms seek to get the blessing from the UN, and this underlines the unique legitimacy of this Organization, whose involvement the parties in conflict still need when they want to find a way out of the crisis. Without the participation of the parties, that way out is never going to be found. But when they have the wish and do need help, the UN is regarded by all as an impartial mediator and herein lies its strength. Thus, here we see the coincidence of our belief in the advantage of collective and international law-based actions for tackling any problems, on the one hand, and the availability of the UN as the center for the coordination of actions by all states, operating on the basis of its Charter, which is acceptable to and adopted by every country of the world.

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, how are the conceptual foundations of Russian foreign policy going to be corrected? How will the system of cooperation by the Foreign Ministry with other players on the foreign policy field be built: the Presidential Administration, the Security Council of Russia, the power agencies? Will the strong potential of our wise men, in particular, Yevgeny Primakov, be enlisted in foreign policy decision-making? How are you going to build your relations with the media?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I don't see any need to correct the strategic foreign policy lines of Russia, which are set forth in the Foreign Policy Concept, as concerns national interests, which I have already spoken about. As President Putin emphasized in his recent speech after the elections, we will have to seek their realization most actively. We will be striving to guarantee the national interests of the Russian Federation, but by no means sliding to aggressive methods, to confrontation. In the struggle for national interests we will show flexibility and work towards compromises acceptable both to us and to our partners, such being all those who are on the multivector spectrum of Russian foreign policy: the US, EU, India, China, Japan, the countries of Asia and Latin America. It's another matter that life does not stand still. In each of the areas I spoke of: safeguarding of security; establishing favorable external conditions for the economic development of the country and improving citizens' welfare; ensuring the interests of our compatriots abroad and in other areas there continually arise facts and developments which you just can't fit into any scheme. We will have to tackle actively these new tasks, based on the strategic guidelines, on the national interests as confirmed in the Foreign Policy Concept. But there is no question of making any fundamental corrections.

Relations with the Presidential Administration and with the Russian Security Council will be built in accordance with the Constitution. It is the President who defines our foreign policy, and the Foreign Ministry is carrying it out. This is written down in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and here there are no changes, nor can there be any. We are encouraged by the fact that Igor Ivanov has been appointed the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, a body which is designed to coordinate the efforts of all the agencies involved in the safeguarding of some or other aspects of state security. We count on the effectiveness of the Council's work increasing in our common interests, including in the interests of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which this will help to confidently proceed with its foreign policy activities. As before, we will use the potential of the most diverse wise men. Begun by my predecessors, regular contacts will continue with the representatives of the scientific and business circles and with heads of regions. All of this enriches the understanding of the tasks facing us, and very often prompts the methods and instruments for their accomplishment.

Yevgeny Primakov, whom you have mentioned, is a member of the Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, the activities of which are directed not only towards UN reform; the reform is derivative, as it were, from the chief objective which Kofi Annan has set for the panel. The chief objective is to assess the present-day threats and challenges, above all terrorism, WMD proliferation and the safeguarding of security in the world, including its social and economic aspects. The wise men are directed to assess these threats and work out recommendations for what collective actions are needed to counter, and ideally to prevent these threats. The emphasis is laid on collective actions precisely, which just bears out the relevance of what I spoke earlier about.

As to the last question, I reconfirm my openness for contacts with the press.

Question: Is there to be a rapprochement of Russia's and the EU's positions on issues in the period immediately preceding the European Union enlargement?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Intensive contacts are being maintained between Russia and the European Union. Issues must be solved relating to the EU enlargement and to the extension of the European Union rules to the new countries joining it. This directly affects the trade and economic interests of Russia and it is precisely what we are openly talking about with our European partners.

A new date is scheduled for my meeting with the EU Troika. It will be held in the first ten-day period of April in Ireland. Russian economic structures in the government are professionally working in parallel with their European counterparts. We hope that, by the end of April, we will certainly manage not only to find, but also to give legal shape to agreements which will satisfy both parties.

Question: Do you think it necessary, based on the experience gained and on facts, to develop some new aspects of the fight against terrorism?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: In the first place I would like to offer my condolences to all the victims of the terrorist acts in Spain. This horrible tragedy has shown once again that no one can be protected from this threat, and that to fight it is only possible by acting jointly. I do not think that the development of events and the increase of terrorist acts in the most diverse parts of the world compel us to seek compromises with terrorists. I believe the fight against terrorism will be uncompromising and tough. For this purpose it is necessary to build up efforts. This is the sphere where under the aegis of the UN by a decision of the Security Council measures are now being taken to ensure the universal membership of all states in all the antiterrorist conventions, and the unification of the antiterrorist laws of each state so that they are compatible. The most important thing is to secure the comparability and compatibility of the administrative mechanisms of security and law enforcement agencies for the application of legal norms in practice. In its considerable part this work does not presuppose publicity. It is producing results. For us to be able to speak more confidently about the increase of reliability and the readiness of the world community for the suppression of the terrorist threat, of course, enormous work still remains to be done. Therefore the position of the Russian leadership is that there can be no compromises in the struggle against terrorism.

In the process we must not forget about other world problems, including social and economic ones. They are hunger, poverty, the chronic, dragging on for decades, conflicts, epidemics, the absence of development and education, of proper health care - all that breeds extremist tendencies. This breeding ground for extremism, among other things, provides volunteers for recruiters of terrorists, including suicide bombers. Without relaxing the uncompromising struggle against terrorism, the world community must pay attention to these questions too. By the way, the panel which Annan has established and of which Primakov is a member, has been formed on the initiative of Russia, with which President Putin came up from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly last September, calling for the elaboration and adoption of a resolution on the combating of new threats and challenges. This resolution we adopted with a large number of cosponsors in the person of leading countries of all the regions. It was adopted unanimously and envisages a comprehensive approach to the fight against all the new threats and challenges: terrorism, organized crime, WMD proliferation, drugs, poverty, underdevelopment and other social problems.

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, how can you comment on Western media reports of the involvement of the two Russian citizens detained in Qatar in the killing of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev? In this new war against terrorism - does Russia have the right to pursue and even kill terrorists abroad, wherever they might be?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Our position on this question was set forth by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov. It remains valid. We have addressed a demand to the Qatari leadership that the Russian citizens be provided with a possibility to return home without hindrance.

As for the second question, it is conceptual; it is being discussed also in relation to the actions which, say, Israel is taking in the occupied Palestinian territories and with regard to the actions which are being taken for the fight against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and members of Saddam Hussein's regime. This question is not to Russia.

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, how do you envision work with respect to the CIS countries in the conditions where there is no separate agency to coordinate that work? What is your assessment of the not very understandable, frankly speaking, mission of Yuri Luzhkov in Georgia?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is concerned with relations with the CIS, and this is one of our priorities, which is only natural. A very professional human potential has been formed at the Ministry over recent years that has an experience of work in the countries of the region and in the collective bodies of the Community. The MFA structure takes into account the processes which are occurring in the CIS, and the need to develop both bilateral relations with our closest neighbors and to advance integration processes to the extent to which our country is ready for this. Next week a meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council is to be held, and I will take part in it. Within its framework questions of our further cooperation in the most diverse fields and preparation for the next regular meetings of the top statutory bodies of the Commonwealth will be discussed.

Apart from the CIS itself, there are other various configurations that advance integration more intensively - the common economic space and the Eurasian Economic Community and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Eurasian Economic Community has received observer status in the General Assembly of the United Nations. This year the CSTO will received a similar status, and so will the SCO. Russia is actively involved in all these processes, and sees the interest of most CIS nations in the deepening of integration. We will support the development of this interest in all directions. I am convinced that at some stage a fusion of all these processes will occur for the majority of the Commonwealth's nations.

As to Yuri Luzhkov's stay in Georgia, I can tell you that yesterday on President Putin's instruction Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Igor Ivanov had a telephone conversation with President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili. Ivanov, after reaffirming the stand of Russia, which consists in respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, stressed that the problem that has arisen between Tbilisi and Batumi should be tackled by political means, through a constructive dialogue. The Georgian President noted the special role of Russia, which it can play in the conditions of a standoff between Tbilisi and Batumi. In relation to the trip of the mayor of Moscow as part of interregional cooperation to Adzharia, Ivanov said the efforts of Luzhkov in the interests of establishing a dialogue between Tbilisi and Batumi enjoy the support of the Russian leadership and asked the President of Georgia to receive Luzhkov for discussion of this question. Saakashvili gave his consent and simultaneously reported that the Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council was arriving in Moscow today.

Question: What effect can the pre-election rhetoric in Russia and the US have on the development of Russian-American relations? Will Russia's attitude change with regard to the nuclear program of Iran?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: It will be no exaggeration to say that any election campaign has its own specifics and does not always reflect the real level of relations between states. President George Bush was one of the first to phone President Putin and to congratulate him on his victory in the elections. I will not open a big secret if I say that both presidents reconfirmed the course developed by them towards the strategic partnership. There is practically nothing to separate us with the Americans in the vision of the strategic tasks before humanity in the field of the ensuring of security and stability. And that there are different readings as to how to achieve those tasks is something that's quite natural between partners. As the saying goes, truth is born in disputes.

As to the critical remarks about the course of the election campaign in Russia, I was somewhat surprised to hear that because the election campaign was open.

It is interesting that the most fervent part of the criticism was about the administrative resource being used to show the incumbent president exclusively. First, this wasn't quite so. I saw the TV appearances of many other candidates. And, secondly, incumbent presidents are shown more often than others simply because they work. In the US too I far more often saw President Bush on screens that his rivals from the Democratic Party, simply because he directs the country and is in foreign policy contact with other leaders. If all are given an absolutely equal time, then information has to be ceased to be given about what the incumbent president is doing. This is also incorrect. Thirdly, during the campaign in the elections of deputies to the State Duma of Russia there was no censure on the part of observers, mostly European. Remarks appeared only when the preliminary election results had become known. They all boiled to the claim that for two months certain parties had not received enough air time. If that is so then why everybody maintained a silence during those two months? And they began to talk about the air time being unfairly divided only when the elections had taken place? Perhaps they had been waiting for some other election results? I am speaking now as a person who had been watching this, and was astonished that the criticisms should be expressed at the moment when they could no longer influence either the results or the course of the elections even if that was a part of the calculations of those who came up with such criticism. If the criticism had been constructive, it should have been launched when those deviations, as they believe, were noticed, and not post factum when the elections had already taken place.

Russia's position on Iran remains invariable. We are for the elucidation and settlement of all the questions that have a bearing on the nuclear activities of Iran and for Iran to cooperate closely in these matters with the IAEA.

Iran signed the additional protocol to the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and is already applying its provisions in practice. Iran took a decision on the voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment activities. We now call upon Teheran to continue its full, active, transparent cooperation with the IAEA, aimed at resolving all the questions that the IAEA still has.

Several days ago the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution on Iran, which we consider generally a well-considered and balanced one. This resolution directs the IAEA to continue its monitoring work in Iran. We support this approach and believe that the successful development of cooperation between Iran and the IAEA is the sole route that will help to close the Iranian dossier so that no one has any questions or suspicions left. On this subject we are maintaining contacts with the leadership of Iran and expect that the dates for IAEA checks will be arranged in advance in the nearest future.

Question: Two moments remain since the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq in which there is no clarity so far. The first is Washington's accusations that Russia had sold the regime of Saddam Hussein special weapons in circumvention of the sanctions. And the second moment is the attack by the Americans on the Russian diplomatic column. Has Russia received any explanations or apologies from the US?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Around Iraq there were many groundless accusations before and after the war. Now there are no UN inspectors in Iraq, although we do believe that they should return there, yet the occupation authorities prefer to search for remnants of weapons independently. I repeat it, we are convinced that UN inspectors could render them assistance in this in any form. The involvement of the UN in this work and in the clarification of the story around Iraq's WMD is necessary. Without the UN, this matter cannot be closed.

What the search groups are now finding in Iraq only bears out the professionalism and the effectiveness of the work of the UN inspectors. The conclusions being drawn by the coalition forces in Iraq are identical to those of the UN inspectors that, most likely, there are no banned programs left in Iraq. The activities of the coalition's search groups remain generally secret, only excerpts from their reports get into the press. And the reports themselves remain classified. Therefore when American spokesmen are saying that the activities of the search groups have explicitly confirmed that Sadam Hussein had been deceiving the UN up to the last day, I would like to see the facts. And again I would like to see the facts when it is being alleged that proofs have been discovered during the search in Iraq that there are Russian weapons there.

The Americans admit that Russian weapons, if they were discovered there, could have gotten into Iraq from very many countries. Therefore until the evidence is laid upon the table, there is nothing to talk about. In the course of this Iraq campaign something like that has occurred more than once. Lots of accusations, but we saw no proofs. Moreover, in most cases, the charges that had been made were refuted by the Americans themselves or by the IAEA or the UN.

With regard to the question about the attack on the column that was carrying out from Iraq the Russian ambassador and a group of embassy staff members, we so far are waiting for explanations and apologies for this incident.

Question: Can Yuri Luzhkov be an objective mediator in the dialogue between Tbilisi and Batumi if he says that he and Aslan Abashidze are "brothers"? What questions are being planned to be discussed in the course of the upcoming meeting with the Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: In the contemporary Russian language the word "brother" has a broad meaning (laughter in the hall). Georgian President Saakashvili gave his consent to a meeting with Luzhkov, so I think that, at least in this aspect, the situation offers some hope for a constructive solution.

The Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council asked for a meeting with me. It will be held today. I will be ready to discuss all the questions of Russian-Georgian relations that are of interest to him.

Question: Is it possible to talk about a crisis in relations between Russia and the EU?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The world is in constant flux, and, probably, this is applicable to this situation as well. Europe has found itself in a situation where too many processes have coincided. It is the process of the European Union enlargement, involving in many respects also the Cyprus problem, which the desire is to settle in an all-out effort before the accession of Cyprus and other states to the EU, and it is the process of the NATO expansion, the process of the search by NATO of its new mission in the new world, and the process of the search in the European Union for a model which would make it possible, from the viewpoint of the Europeans' interests, to avoid their splitting up into "new" and "old." All of this, undoubtedly, affects current affairs significantly, but does not free our European and NATO partners from looking for answers to the legitimate questions of Russia, reflecting our interests, which will be affected both in the NATO expansion and in the EU enlargement. Our partners acknowledge the legitimacy of our concerns. There goes the active process of the elaboration of mutually acceptable agreements that would not infringe on our trade and economic interests in the wake of the EU expansion and which would make the agreements on Kaliningrad more effective. Similar processes are going on within the framework of our relations with NATO in connection with the accession of the new members, four of which are not members of the CFE Treaty. We are for the speediest entry of the adapted CFE Treaty into force, because without it there will be no generally acceptable basis for the safeguarding of security for the whole European region. We expect NATO to respond to our concerns in a constructive way. As of today, my telephone conversation is scheduled with the NATO Secretary General, who, evidently, intends to inform me about something.

Question: How will Russian-Azerbaijani relations be developing? Is Russia planning to intensify its participation in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The intention to maintain and develop friendly, partner relations was explicitly confirmed in the course of the telephone conversation when the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, phoned President Putin to congratulate him on his victory in the elections.

As to Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, Russia together with the US and France is a cochairman of the so called Minsk Group. Within the framework of the efforts to find a settlement, many compromise options have been worked out which at some stage did have a chance of realization. Conceptually the parties accepted them. However, the practical implementation of these concepts ran into technical difficulties, which then began to assume a political character. The efforts need to be continued. However, it is clear that we will not be able to solve this question for the concerned parties themselves. We expect that a direct dialogue between Yerevan and Baku will aid the finding of a compromise which could seriously help to stabilize the situation in the entire Transcaucasian region.

Question: How do you feel about the statements of certain Russian politicians on the need to impose sanctions against Latvia?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Russia presumes that sanctions are not the best method of solving problems. Problems are best tackled by negotiation. I can say that, from the viewpoint of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we are against unilateral moves, be it the use of force or the employment of other measures of coercion. According to the rules of international law, this is the prerogative of the United Nations Security Council. We are striving to rely upon international law and do hope that Latvia will proceed from the same and that the standards which are adopted in civilized Europe, where Latvia is eager to get, will be equally observed by it so that the Russian-speaking population is not infringed in its elementary, generally recognized European human rights.

Question: What are the prospects for the development of Russian-Iranian relations?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Iran is our neighbor and partner, a major factor of solving the problems of the Persian gulf and the entire region, a major participant in the antiterrorist coalition. Our cooperation with Iran is not liable to any momentary fluctuations, including in the nuclear field. We believe that Iran has a right to develop its peaceful nuclear energy if this conforms to the rules of the IAEA. Our Iranian partners agree with this.

Question: Will Russia take measures to protect the Russian delegation during the Olympic Games in Greece? What is Russia's position on the settlement of the Cyprus problem in the context of the EU enlargement?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I mentioned Cyprus to illustrate the accretion of many events that took place in Europe during the last autumn-winter, and to show in what not easy conditions the Europeans have found themselves for a whole variety of reasons. Russia advocates that the unification of Cyprus should take place. Ideally we would like Cyprus to join the EU. And we are convinced that the unification should occur voluntarily on the terms acceptable to both parties, which conform to the decisions of the UN Security Council.

We had some doubts regarding the last scheme, when the idea was put forward that in case of failure in the talks between the two Cyprus parties and in the talks with participation by Greece and Turkey, the UN Secretary General would offer his solutions on the specific problems left unresolved. We doubted that the agreement on the unification of Cyprus would fully live up to the voluntary principle. In the end the parties themselves have dispelled our doubts. Both Greece and Turkey have agreed that the UN Secretary General has received that right.

Therefore we can now await when events lead to the point where he will advance his proposals. According to the agreement which all the four parties have reached, they have promised to accept these proposals; it's acceptable to all the concerned parties. We are ready to wait till the result is there.

With regard to the protection of the Russian athletes during the Olympic Games, we will wholly rely upon the recommendations of the Greek side. If such follow, and the Greek side asks, as it plans, NATO to provide general protection, this is its right. If the question is one of ensuring the security of specific delegations, then I think the Russian side will solve this question for its delegation.

Question: What is Russia's attitude to the initiative of Serbia for the cantonization of Kosovo? What do you think about Kosovo's future status?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The idea of cantonizing Kosovo is not new. It has been discussed for many years, even back at the stage of an immediate way out of the conflict. It has its supporters. This initiative was put forward after the Serbs were driven out of Kosovo by way of the creation there of intolerable conditions of life for minorities. The return of Serbs and other minorities to their native homes is practically at the zero mark as distinct from Bosnia, where returns are proceeding fast. In the conditions of this hopelessness, when people cannot return to their homes, the idea of cantonization arose. I do not think that it will have in the foreseeable future any practical resonance, because the standards for Kosovo have just been agreed upon, along with a plan for their implementation. The plan sets forth quite tough requirements, primarily for the Kosovo Albanian leaders, who must in practice prove that all their declarations about readiness to create a multiethnic Kosovo, where all the ethnic groups will be equal and have equal access to education, natural resources and so on, will be realized. Every three months the Contact Group together with the UN Security Council will give an appraisal of how the implementation of these standards is proceeding. In May 2005, it is decided to conduct a general analysis which will help to judge whether these standards are being implemented or not. The question of determining the status of Kosovo is currently not on the agenda. It will arise when all the Kosovo standards have been implemented for a "five." So far there is no talk about that.

Question: In one of your poems there are the lines: "Don't fall, but go on straight to your objective...." Today you still keep up this motto?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Everyone must go toward their objectives. If I hadn't done that, I would not be here today.

Question: What are the aspects of the Russian foreign policy in Southeast Asia, primarily towards Japan? How will the policy be built in respect of expansion of trade-and-economic cooperation, in the field of energy and in the construction of oil pipelines? What is the position of Russia on settlement on the Korean Peninsula? Will the role of Russia be increased in this process under your guidance?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Japan is developing relations with us ongoingly. Contacts are being maintained at various levels, including at the highest and at the level of the foreign ministries.

The problem of the Korean Peninsula is one of the themes on which Japan and Russia hold similar positions in the course of the talks in the six-way format. I believe we will be actively promoting the buildup of the negotiating process. It is very important that the next round of talks will be held, agreement to this effect has been reached. Russia together with our other partners in this format will be doing everything in its power to achieve a settlement on the Korean Peninsula by political, peaceful means. We hope that with Japan here too we can actively cooperate, just as in the development of our bilateral ties. I will not speak about the oil pipeline. This question is now being discussed. In the first place, economic expediency is there, although, of course, this question has a strategic aspect too.

Question: How are relations developing between Russia and China now?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Relations between Russia and the PRC are developing well. They are developing along an ascending line. China is our neighbor, our friend. The PRC shares with us practically identical positions on the overwhelming majority of international issues. China is ever more actively beginning to participate in practical terms in the solution of conflicts under UN auspices. Its position is becoming ever more concrete, ever more concerned. The PRC is becoming a very important and active, I stress it - active, which previously was not always observed - player in the world arena. This is natural. China is gaining strength, it is aware of its national interests and, what is of fundamental importance, China is striving to realize its national interests through collective actions on the basis of international law. In this I see an important earnest of the strength of the structure of international relations which is now taking shape.

Question: How can the resignation of the President of the Republic of Korean influence the course of the six-way talks on Korean problems?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Last Sunday I had a conversation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea. He proposed that we meet at the end of April - the beginning of May. We will discuss the preparations for the six-way round of talks, which, I am certain, will take place.

Question: Does Russia have any reasons for joining the OIC other than the fact that there are 20 million Muslims in the Russian Federation? How do you assess the development of Russian-Saudi relations and their prospects?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Aren't the 20 million Muslims enough as a reason for cooperation with the OIC? Enough, I think. But other reasons also exist. There are tasks which we are solving and with regard to which we are cooperating with the OIC: the settlement of various conflicts, including the Middle East conflict, the fight against terrorism, the promotion of the dialogue among civilizations. Supported by the OIC and UN, this Iranian initiative, if it is implemented in practice, will in many respects help to neutralize, and in the end overcome the tendencies of the growth of extremism in the world. Therefore we have much in common with the OIC.

Our relations with Saudi Arabia are developing well, we treasure them. The visit of the Crown Prince to Russia was very important. After this our contacts are being maintained through various channels.

Question: Is the position of Russia going to change with regard to the territorial dispute with Japan?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: There is agreement between the presidents of Russia and Japan on how to conduct matters in the preparation of a peace treaty. I feel both sides have the desire to move towards that treaty on the basis of the principles which were agreed upon by the presidents. Of course, we are guided by the Constitution of Russia.

Question: In what way does Russia intend to realize its interests in the Balkans, bearing in mind the fact that Russian troops have left Kosovo and are leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I would like to see the moment come when the fact of the absence of somebody's troops on somebody's territory is not regarded as the impossibility to realize national interests. Interests can be realized in different ways and it is possible to select the form of ensuring the interests that is adequate to the situation. We will be ensuring our interests in the Balkans by way of the development of friendly, pragmatic, mutually beneficial ties with all the Balkan states.

Question: What has to be done for Russia to agree to conclude a border treaty with Latvia?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Agreement must be reached on all the questions which are being discussed in this connection.

Question: Many political observers have expressed the opinion that in the new government the role of the Foreign Ministry in the pursuit of foreign policy will be decreased? We already see that the questions with Georgia are being tackled with the mediation of the Russian Security Council. What is your opinion on this question?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The President defines the foreign policy of Russia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs implements it. According to the Russian Constitution, the Security Council is a body designed to coordinate the activities of all the departments which participate in ensuring and in developing a strategy for security and in safeguarding the security of the country in all its dimensions, including the military, economic, environmental, even health care aspect. I have already expressed my satisfaction with the fact that it is Igor Ivanov who has come to the post of Secretary of the Security Council. With this we associate the hope for a vigorous and effective activity of this agency. If such coordination is established, then as concerns foreign policy matters this will be a great mainstay for the Foreign Ministry. With the unprecedented concretization of foreign policy matters there is an ever growing demand for the enlistment of the most diverse agencies in the preparation of foreign policy activities and their implementation. The Ministry must coordinate all this when a decision of the President is made. The elaboration of recommendations for the President on strategic issues at the interagency level is conducted with the participation of the Foreign Ministry, but the participation of other agencies is also extremely important. We hope that the activities of the Security Council will help to raise the effectiveness of all this work.

March 18, 2004