16.04.06. Transcript of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov Interview to Russian Media on Outcome of Participation in OIC Foreign Ministers Conference, Istanbul

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, is Russia going to become a member of the OIC?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Countries with a predominant Muslim population enter the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which Russia is not. But there are in the Russian Federation about 20 million Muslims - this is more than the entire population of many OIC member countries. At the same time it is not the predominant part of the Russian population. Therefore we cannot be a member of this Organization, but that is not the meaning of our dialogue with the OIC, which was not launched for membership, not for the sake of obtaining some concrete status. As President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said, our country and the Islamic world are inseparably connected by history. There are too many problems in the world that depend on the fostering of mutual cooperation. These problems are very serious, on their solution the future of international relations largely depends.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference and Russia together can do very much to prevent a split of the world on civilizational, religious grounds, as well as to ensure that the world order is not built on the basis of attempts to prove the superiority of this or that religion, system or world view, but on collective principles, on the basis of mutual understanding, respect and a joint search for ways to combat the new common threats we all face - terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking and organized crime - which presently have no national borders.

Our dialogue is important for the fight against terrorism not to be associated in the eyes of the world public with a confrontation with Islam. Terrorism is alien to Islam. The decisions adopted today by the OIC at its ministerial meeting, have strongly condemned international terrorism in all its manifestations and reaffirmed the readiness of the Islamic world to fight this evil. Our positions coincide on this point, just as they do on Middle East settlement issues and on the need to ensure the lawful rights of the Palestinian people through a fair Palestinian-Israeli settlement and the solution of other problems of this region.
Our positions also coincide as regards the need to ensure the speediest restoration of Iraq's sovereignty, by developing the positive elements of UN Security Council Resolution 1546, while at the same time doing everything to ensure that this resolution does not remain only on paper.

Our positions also coincide on the need to carry through the restoration of the statehood of Afghanistan and on a number of other problems.

Question: How do you feel about the fact that the representative of Turkey has been elected the OIC Secretary General? How will this influence Russian relations with this Organization, considering that Turkey is not a supporter of our membership in the OIC?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I have already noted that a concrete status is of only secondary importance in our relations with the OIC. The most important thing is that Russia, since the President of the Russian Federation took part in the OIC summit in Malaysia in 2003, has been perceived as a friend and partner. After last year's summit a series of contacts were held at a high expert level to discuss entirely concrete issues of our partnership, which is being developed in forms that suit both Russia and the OIC. I repeat it, the questions of status are not decisive in this case.

As to Turkey, it is at the invitation of Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül that I am taking part in this OIC ministerial meeting. Today, giving me the floor, he presented me to his colleagues. I did not detect any doubts in the position of Turkey that developing the closest cooperation between the Russian Federation and OIC meets its interests.

Question: Does Russia's rapprochement with the OIC facilitate a deeper comprehension by these countries of the situation in the Chechen Republic, as well as their joining in the restoration of a normal life in this subject of the Russian Federation?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: An understanding on the OIC's part of the actions of the Russian leadership for a political settlement and the restoration of constitutional order in the Chechen Republic has been observed for a sufficiently long time, even before Russia began to develop relations with the OIC as an organization. The representatives of Islamic states participated as observers in the course of the election for President of the Chechen Republic. The OIC member countries expressed sincere condolences to the Russian leadership over the brutal murder of Akhmad Kadyrov and are ready to take part as observers in the upcoming early presidential elections in the Chechen Republic and elections to its legislative body. Some of these states have been rendering specific financial assistance. In particular, we today appealed for participation in the projects for the rehabilitation of the system of education, science and culture in the Chechen Republic that are being developed under the auspices of UNESCO.

Thus, in practical terms we see the result of our cooperation both with these countries and with the Organization as a whole. Politically - I do not recall any misunderstanding of our actions having been expressed by the Organization during the last year. On the contrary, political support was being felt. The fact that at the beginning of this year the late President of the Chechen Republic Akhmad Kadyrov made a visit to Saudi Arabia speaks for itself.

The agreements reached within the framework of our practical dialogue with the OIC as an organization do not depend on the situation around the Chechen Republic. We, on one hand, have comprehension on the part of our partners from the OIC, and on the other - there exists an extensive agenda on regional and international affairs which determines the necessity of joint actions and is of a mutual interest.

Question: A joint conference is scheduled to be held in the fall in Moscow jointly with the OIC. Why is that event interesting to Russia? What explains its being held precisely in Moscow?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think the answer to this question derives from the foregoing. Russia and the OIC have, as it were, a "mutual pulling power," which is to be explained by the fact that there are about 20 million Muslims in our country. The initiative for holding that scientific conference, Islam. Peace. Fight Against Terrorism, belongs to the OIC. We support this initiative. Concrete organizational questions are currently being examined. The conference may be held at the end of the current year or at the beginning of next.

June 17, 2004