28.06.04 Transcript of Remarks by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference Following Russia-NATO Council Session, Istanbul, June 28, 2004

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The session of the Russia-NATO Council has just concluded. During the session, all the members concurred that, in the two years since the historic summit in Rome, we have seen for ourselves the viability of, and demand for this mechanism of cooperation between Russia and NATO, which has been established on the principles of equality and consensus not only with respect to decision making, but also with regard to joint responsibility for decision implementation.

We noted that in the course of the session the affirmation was heard of a mutual interest in developing the partnership and of an understanding of the commonality of security challenges for all the members of the Russia-NATO Council. The recent acts of terrorism, including those not long ago in Ingushetia, have again shown that we are having to deal with a common enemy. At the session, specific instructions were agreed upon in order - based on work already done on the assessment of common threats from international terrorists - to prepare concrete measures on an annual basis which would ensure joint practical actions by all the participants of this mechanism in the fight against the terrorist threat.

We devoted special attention to the development of the political dialogue on the key problems of international and regional security. In this context the Russian delegation noted the moments which cannot but arouse concern in our country in the wake of another enlargement of NATO. The fact is that after this enlargement we see what I would call the military development by the Alliance of the territory of the new states. There takes place the strengthening of the military presence around Russian borders. We understand that this does not involve any preparation for military clashes - today it was again reaffirmed that neither Russia poses a threat to NATO, nor NATO poses a threat to Russia. There are no prerequisites for a conflict - we have a normal working partner-like open relationship with NATO. But the fact that around the perimeter of Russia's borders with certain new members there is military activity being unfolded suggests to us that the Alliance seeks to be guided not so much by real assessments in the Baltic region, and this region is one of the most stable, as by outdated internal NATO instructions as to the protection of the territory and air space of its members, which had been worked out in a different era. We raised this question. We suggested jointly and transparently discussing such concerns, as border security is our common cause, and to consider the appropriate matters is best together. Extra confidence-building measures, measures of mutual control, measures for preventing dangerous military activity are necessary.

This will help avoid incidents along the Russia-NATO line of contact, which might be provoked by technical or weather conditions pertaining to the real condition of security on this border.

Preliminarily I shall note that this idea evoked a keen reaction. I think we shall outline practical measures so there are no misunderstandings, nor even less so any causes for suspicions.

We particularly accentuated the need for the earliest possible entry of the Agreement on the Adaptation of the CFE Treaty into force. This agreement represents the material basis of our interaction with NATO. As is known, on June 25, this year, the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted a federal law on ratification of this agreement. We called upon the partners to promptly carry out their national procedures, thus abiding by the chief Istanbul obligation. This would meet our common interests in the field of security. Russia sees no reasonable alternative to the speediest possible entry of the CFE Treaty into force. It is important that at today's session the new members of NATO which are not yet parties to the adapted CFE Treaty reaffirmed their commitment to join the Treaty after it comes into effect.

We discussed regional crises, and agreed to speed up the work on a basic concept of Russia-NATO peacekeeping. The work is being conducted, but so far it has not lead to any concrete results in the form of practical agreements. We discussed and reaffirmed our commitment to cooperate with NATO in Afghan settlement in the mainstream of the tasks which are set forth in the declaration of the Berlin Conference on building a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan. One key question is elaboration of a comprehensive international strategy to fight the drug traffic from Afghanistan. Within the Russia-NATO Council, a document has been elaborated approaching the first evaluations of the situation and approaches to measures that should be worked out. It creates quite a good basis for further practical actions.

We agreed jointly with our Russia-NATO Council partners to render concrete assistance both to Afghanistan and to its neighbors, if they express the wish, in strengthening their potential in the fight against the threat of drugs.

We also noted the decision which was adopted in Astana on June 18, 2004, at the CSTO summit, inviting NATO to establish cooperation in a variety of fields. Appropriate contacts between the Secretary General of the CSTO and the Secretary General of NATO will soon be undertaken. This proposal encompasses a whole variety of spheres of cooperation, including Afghanistan, peacekeeping as a whole, the struggle against terrorism, drug traffic and WMD proliferation, and cooperation in emergency situations.

We discussed the situation in Kosovo, where the threat of new, prepared in advance and wide-scale provocative actions by extremists from among the Kosovo Albanians is very great. We noted that the communique adopted at today's NATO summit indicates that the Alliance will not tolerate a repetition of the March ethnic cleansings that had been staged by Kosovo Albanians against minorities in Kosovo. We hold that this position deserves full support. We have long since been talking about the need that the Kosovo Forces, whose mandate was written by NATO, should at last carry out the provision of the resolution of the United Nations Security Council - disarming illegal armed units, and providing conditions for the safe return of all those who did not leave Kosovo of their own will, but were driven out from there.

We also agreed to give impetus to practical cooperation under the aegis of the Russia-NATO Council on new projects and programs. Common interest was expressed in a swift move from elaboration of principles and priorities to work on modalities and cooperation in concrete affairs, both between military and special services, and in the sphere of civil and research projects.

It is important that the interest was reaffirmed in refining the document on cooperation in the fight against the proliferation of WMDs. There was supported the proposal of Russia for the participation of three Black Sea Fleet ships in the antiterrorist operation Active Endeavor which NATO units are carrying out in the eastern Mediterranean.

All noted the success of the Kaliningrad 2004 training exercises held a few days ago under the auspices of Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry, in the course of which the joint actions to eliminate a major technogenic catastrophe were tested and perfected.

Generally we regard the outcome of the meeting as useful. We would like that not only on the issues on which we have agreed to concretize our joint ideas and suggestions, but also on everything else as recorded in the guideline documents of the Russia-NATO Council, we would switch to practical actions and in practice advance the interests of common security and the interests of repulsing the common threats for Russia and NATO.

We will be doing everything necessary for our relations with NATO to develop on a basis of equality, in a positive and mutually beneficial spirit, a point made by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin this past April when meeting with the Secretary General of NATO. This position was reaffirmed by us today as well.

Question: Is the idea of the formation of a common European space based on the harmonization of three parallel spaces still relevant? Was this subject touched upon now?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: This subject in practical terms was not today touched on. But the idea remains relevant. We presume that it is necessary not so much to discuss it in the course of general discussions as to consider the practical modalities of its realization. On this topic we spoke today with the NATO Secretary General in the course of a separate conversation. He reaffirmed that interest, the European Union has a similar interest likewise. We understand that our partners need some time to "digest" the current situation, and we expect them to soon be ready for a substantive talk on that point. A substantive talk is just what's needed, with concrete suggestions as to possible joint action options. The stage of general discussions is past.

Question: When is Russia going to withdraw its troops from Georgia? This is the condition for ratification of the CFE Treaty in many western countries.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I cannot speak for the western countries which are setting forth some or other conditions of CFE ratification. There are no juridical linkages between the functioning of the Russian bases in Georgia and the remaining military property and weapons in Transnistria, and the coming into effect of the ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty. There is only one juridical obligation - to ratify the adapted CFE Treaty. This obligation was assumed in Istanbul by all the parties. Today I reported that Russia has performed its obligation, and I expressed the hope that the other CFE participants will do the same.

The question of the bases in Georgia and the weapons in Transnistria was the subject of political agreements. Those agreements did not set any deadlines for physical action. They concerned, in particular, reaching agreement on talks concerning the duration and the modalities of the functioning of the bases in Georgia. The talks were resumed after President Putin and President Mikhail Saakashvili agreed to resume this process, which had been in a frozen state because of the position of the previous Georgian leadership. The talks are currently resumed. Given the good will and real understanding of the need to make the withdrawal of the bases normal, without the creation of inconveniences for the servicemen, these are quite reachable agreements.

As regards Transnistria, the weapons could have long since been withdrawn if a year ago the document, which had already been initialed by Chisinau and Tiraspol, had been signed. It was not signed not through our fault, but under pressure from the outside. This has caused our regret. By the same token those who exerted that pressure actually postponed Transnistrian settlement for an indefinite time. Now we are making efforts for this settlement to materialize. The five-party format, Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, Tiraspol and Chisinau, is working, consultations are being held within its framework. If there's no hindrance, I think we'll come to an agreement.

Question: It is known that the present NATO summit is a meeting at the highest level. What was behind the decision that the President of the Russian Federation did not arrive in Istanbul? Does this reflect the level of relations between Russia and NATO to some extent?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Invitations to various activities are regularly coming in to Moscow and other capitals. Far from always is it possible to accept such invitations, if only for consideration of being busy with other commitments. These days the President of Russia is really busy with the commitments he has. This is in no way related to our attitude towards cooperation with the Alliance within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council. Last time, when NATO was enlarging, a meeting was held at foreign ministers' level. The same is taking place now as well. I did not hear any attempts from any one of our partners today either at the session or in the conversations to treat the level of RNC session as not reflecting the disposition of all the participants to develop a genuinely equal partnership.

Question: Did Vladimir Putin convey any messages to the Turkish leadership?

How will you comment on the NATO decision to help the Iraqi government with the training of the security forces of the country?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I was in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago, when I took part in the OIC ministerial meeting, and was accorded the honor of holding bilateral talks with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül. I conveyed the messages of President of the Russian Federation Putin concerning bilateral relations of our countries, as well as the contacts of Moscow and Ankara at the political level.

As to the adoption of the NATO decision on training security forces and the army for the interim government in Iraq, all the measures are welcomed that aim to stabilize the situation in the country. The situation in Iraq demands taking urgent measures to stabilize conditions in the country and to change the security situation which is not improving. We believe that the use of force will not be able to resolve this crisis, just as the use of force cannot solve any conflict at all. A political dialogue is necessary. Based on these conditions, especially with reference to the situation in Iraq, we hold that achieving security in the country requires organizing a comprehensive political dialogue in Iraq with the enlistment of all the political forces in the country, including the political opposition.

I understand that the government of Iraq in accordance with the schedule set out in the resolution of the United Nations Council is preparing a national conference, possibly next month already. The government is inviting certain opposition groups to take part. We feel that all the major opposition groups should also be invited. And only by way of national reconciliation shall we be able to reach a situation where the Iraqis will feel involved and sense that the government is acceptable to them. We want to support this process. We wish this government success. The best way to achieve this, namely to realize the plans of the government, is to gather behind the negotiating table all the Iraqis on the understanding that the neighbors of Iraq will feel their involvement in activity based on the outcome of that conference. Therefore Russia has been advocating the idea of holding an international conference on Iraq, in the course of which all the political forces of the country jointly with the states neighbors of Iraq and the members of the United Nations Security Council will be able to discuss ways of support for the restoration of the sovereignty of the country, elaboration of a constitution, and holding of elections, which would lead to the election by constitutional means of a government of Iraq.

We believe that under today's conditions the idea of that conference is relevant as never before. We hope that in accordance with the resolution of the United Nations Security Council, endorsing in principle this initiative, the government of Iraq will initiate this process, which we are ready to support.

When we are talking about assistance to Iraq in the training of its security forces, it is necessary to clearly understand relations between the multinational forces deployed in the country and the interim government. As I understood today, so far there is no agreement on the status of the forces between the multinational forces and the Iraqi government. This may create, especially in the situation where sovereignty has formally been transferred, a dangerous vacuum, which should be avoided.

Question: Will Russia participate in the training of the Iraqi national army? Is the sending of Russian peacekeepers to Iraq possible?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The decision on assistance in the training of the Iraqi army and security forces was taken by NATO. Therefore the question whether we will participate and in what forms is not for Russia, we did not take such decisions and are not a part of this agreement, which was not discussed at the session of the Russia-NATO Council. There is no question of our participation in peacekeeping activities in Iraq, which Russia has declared more than once. I see no conditions for that. The multinational forces which are in Iraq bear responsibility in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution for ensuring security there in close cooperation with the government of Iraq, which should have a right to vote in decision making on how to use these forces within the country. It makes us cautious that there is still no clarity as to how this provision of the UN Security Council resolution will be translated into strict juridical language in the form of an agreement between the multinational forces and the government of Iraq on the status of the forces. After the transfer of sovereignty to the interim government from the occupation forces, in the absence of such an agreement, a certain legal vacuum is emerging which, especially in the present conditions in Iraq, is undesirable.

Question: French President Jacques Chirac has said that agreement was reached today to the effect that assistance in the training of the armed forces of Iraq can be provided both by NATO member states and by countries which are not such, including on a bilateral basis. Could Russia lend Iraq assistance in this field on such terms?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think the French President did not announce anything new, because in principle any country can cooperate with another sovereign country in any matter given a reciprocal interest. We are holding no such talks with the Iraqi leadership. We are conducting contacts with the Iraqi government, and so did even with the Interim Governing Council of Iraq on the questions of economic assistance, of aid in the rehabilitation of the badly devastated economy and infrastructure of the state.

As is known, because of the absence of elementary security conditions the Russian specialists, who for months had been engaged in the reconstruction of the system of power supply of Iraq, were forced to leave Iraq, some of them were killed, and a number taken hostage, after which they were released. Now we want to render the Iraqis assistance in the areas of interest to them. Such talks are being held both with the minister of economy and with the minister of energy of Iraq. We prefer peaceful spheres of assistance to that country.

June 29, 2004