29.06.04 Transcript of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov Interview on Outcome of his Participation in Euro-Atlantic Partnership Top-Level Meeting, Istanbul, June 29, 2004

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We concluded the work of the Russia-NATO Council, and within the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council a useful dialogue took place. The main topics of discussion within the EAPC today were Afghanistan, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

After the speech of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was invited to the EAPC summit, everybody spoke in support of the efforts by the international community to normalize conditions in Afghanistan, primarily as regards the fight against the manifestations of terrorism, which not only persist but keep growing in that country. In this regard the usefulness was noted of the decision by NATO to increase its participation, above all in the form of the establishment of a number of additional "provincial reconstruction teams," and the need was reaffirmed for the provision of economic assistance to Afghanistan and for successfully holding presidential and parliamentary elections this fall.

Russia is making its contribution to these efforts. We are actively participating in the antiterrorist coalition, which was being talked about today, including the assistance we render by providing the possibilities of transit through our territory for antiterrorist operation purposes in Afghanistan, including the real material assistance by our country with the formation of Afghan armed forces, and including the support efforts for work on the economic, social and humanitarian rehabilitation of the country.

As to Central Asia and Transcaucasia, we showed the efforts being made by the countries of these regions, including those in the framework of the CIS, SCO and CSTO, which the United Nations and the OSCE support, and underscored the importance of stabilizing conditions in these regions and preventing them from being used by extremists, terrorists and drug traffickers. It is necessary to take into account both the already established structures and the experience accumulated within these structures. An understanding of this is there. I think that the results of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council will help take fuller account of the real interests of Russia in this space.

Question: As has become known, you left the EAPC conference hall. You did that in protest?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: No, of course. I was not the only one to leave the hall, as in keeping with the tradition of international forums bilateral meetings are held on their fringes, which I had seven left - with the foreign ministers of the United States, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. All my counterparts with whom I met were also absent in the hall at the time. So don't attach any significance to the fact that because of the specifics of our work we not always can be in the limelight.

Question: How do you assess the decision of the NATO summit to participate in the training of an Iraqi army?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We noted that the NATO summit had decided that members of the Alliance would render assistance in the training of the army and security forces of Iraq. Although it was not said in what form that training would take place and where. As is known, it is not safe within Iraq. But let us not forget that Iraq had a normal professional army, a police force and security forces. Certainly, the leaders of these structures who collaborated with the regime of Saddam Hussein, carrying out his will, should not remain in power. But generally, as all the professionals note, it was an efficient and disciplined army. Of course, it was a mistake to disband it, which added to destabilization in the country during the period of occupation.

We have no plans to help create armed forces in Iraq. Probably, the ideal option would be (the occupation forces have come to this in the last stages of their presence in Iraq) the restoration of the army, security and other structures that previously existed in the country. Just as the occupation forces have acknowledged de facto the erroneousness of their decision of a total ban on the taking on for any job of members of the Baath party, as the majority of party members are normal official/bureaucrats, without whom the state system cannot operate. I think that herein is the principal task. Toward this end it is necessary that the interim government should be regarded by people as representing truly all of the Iraqis. Then the army and the police force and the security forces will materialize by themselves. The question of equipping them can be solved without delay. Key to the implementation of this stage is the fostering of a political process which would encompass all the major political forces of Iraq.

The resistance is continuing, many opposition political parties still consider it unacceptable for them to cooperate with the interim government, which poses a big problem. Again we are returning to the theme of an international conference which with the participation of Iraq's neighbors and the UN Security Council members could help reconcile the Iraqis around the national idea of restoring their sovereignty in full. This process has only begun.

So far the interim government plans to declare a state of emergency soon, which in itself reflects the extreme instability and precariousness of the situation. Drastic steps are necessary for ensuring the unity of the entire Iraqi society. We feel that this can only be done with the support of the international community - with this is also linked the idea of holding the conference.

Question: What questions did you discuss as you met with Colin Powell? Was NATO's military presence in Central Asia discussed with him?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Russia cooperates with the US as a partner in the antiterrorist coalition, of which the Central Asian states are also a part. The military presence of the United States in the region, as the American counterparts again confirmed to us, is due solely to the tackling of these tasks. Today at the talks with Colin Powell we discussed the contribution of our countries to the development of the partnership within the Russia-NATO Council. A lot depends on our countries both in the activities of this structure and in ensuring that no unnecessary suspicion arises in relations between the Alliance and Russia. Transparency is needed, joint steps are needed to ensure transparency and to prevent any dangerous military activity. I think that an understanding exists on that point. The NATO Secretary General and I also talked about this. We count on a practical continuation of these discussions.

We also discussed with Powell our cooperation within the OSCE and a whole variety of bilateral questions, as well as some international topics, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Question: What was the reaction of the NATO countries to Russia's concerns over the enhanced military presence of the Alliance along the perimeter of Russian borders?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We discussed this question with the NATO Secretary General and the US Secretary of State. They expressed an understanding of our concerns. The issue is that according to the old instructions of NATO, when the Alliance existed as a bloc opposing the Warsaw Treaty Organization, the rules were in force by which the military infrastructure of all the member states used to be organized in a certain manner.

Now that the enlargement of the Alliance occurs in entirely different historical conditions, when Russia is developing its partnership with NATO in the framework of the Council, set up on a parity equal basis, when at the base of this partnership lie the principles endorsed at the highest level, including transparency, mutual trust, and the taking of necessary measures to remove concerns in this or that military activity of each other, there are no obstacles to ensuring the Alliance's security not in isolation from Russia, but in direct contact with us. This was what we were talking about. It meets our interests no less than the interests of NATO, the existence of a secure border between Russia and the states which have joined the Alliance so no incidents arise on either side of it due to technical reasons or weather conditions, which could be incorrectly interpreted and might create an unnecessary risk.

Question: Did Russia get the appropriate assurances from the RNC partners regarding the concerns over the enhanced military presence of the Alliance along the perimeter of Russian borders?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: They expressed an understanding of our concerns. We expect that joint practical steps will be taken at the level of military specialists and experts.

Question: What explains your participation in this EAPC summit, for previously it was deputy ministers who took part in such meetings?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: If the EAPC gathered at a ministerial level, but the minister could not participate, then his deputy was present.

We have no bias whatsoever against the EAPC. Today the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council gathered at the highest level, the heads of all the NATO member states and most partner countries were present. I see nothing to be ashamed of in attending that forum.

Question: That is your participation in the EAPC can be regarded as a gesture of goodwill, even though you left the conference hall?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I do not think it can be said that the presence of a minister at a presidential forum is a gesture of goodwill. Igor Ivanov also took part in the work of a presidential EAPC. While participating in such forums, one also has to leave the conference hall for bilateral meetings. There should be no seeing any political demonstrations in this.

Question: Ukraine reaffirmed in Istanbul its desire to fully integrate into NATO. How does Russia treat this intention of Ukraine? And is the entry of Russia itself into the Alliance possible in the long term?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: To both questions there's but one answer. Each sovereign state has the right to independently determine its foreign policy. This applies equally to Russia and Ukraine.

Question: The summit results have shown that Turkey is becoming an important state for the eastern policy of the West. How are Russian-Turkish relations developing in this connection?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Russia has good cooperation developing with Turkey, which we are striving to bring to the level of a many-sided partnership. Two weeks ago, while attending the OIC ministerial conference in Istanbul, we held detailed talks with Abdullah Gül, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs. A month before that he had been in Moscow as a member of the OIC delegation, where we had also held detailed bilateral consultations. We have many coinciding interests. We are the world's only countries situated both in Europe and in Asia. Our states advocate peace between peoples, nationalities, religions, and so on. We have many common regional interests - it is the Black Sea and the contiguous region as a whole and Iraq. Russia and Turkey are particularly interested in the earliest possible stabilization of conditions there. Afghanistan is also the theme on which our views coincide. There is a common understanding with the Turkish counterparts of the need to strengthen the role of multilateral institutions, of the United Nations in approaches towards regional and international affairs. There exist a number of forums, such as the BSEC and Blackseafor, within which Russia and Turkey are actively cooperating in addition to work within the OSCE, the UN, the Russia-NATO Council and so on.

Of course, one cannot fail to mention the extensive bilateral ties, which are reciprocally beneficial both in the economic field and in the area of culture, and so we are striving to develop them. We believe that Turkey can play an even more important role in the world arena, especially in regional affairs. We are ready for the closest cooperation and coordination with that country.

Question: By all indications, NATO is building up its activity in Transcaucasia, as is evidenced, in particular, by the decisions to establish new mechanisms for cooperation with the countries of the region. Does this not cause the concern of Russia? How are we reacting to that activity of NATO?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: This concerns not so much the EAPC, as NATO as such - the posts of special representatives for the Caucasus were created, and the office of NATO Deputy Secretary General was introduced who will be responsible for cooperation with the partners from Transcaucasia and Central Asia. This is a decision of the Alliance, it has partners in those regions, this partnership is developing.

We treat this is an objective reality. We are developing our own contacts with these countries - both as part of bilateral relations and in the framework of the various regional and sub-regional structures existing in the CIS space. We feel the development of cooperation by NATO with these countries, especially when we are talking about the prevention of threats of destabilization in the region and about the suppression of threats linked with terrorism and drug trafficking, cannot but take into account what is already being done in Central Asia and Transcaucasia on these issues. I already enumerated the appropriate structures and mechanisms, supported by the UN and the OSCE. We believe their role and the ideas and suggestions these mechanisms have should necessarily be taken account of in the future. We are ready for open and transparent cooperation in these questions with all the concerned countries and organizations. This cannot be a zero game. We all have a vital stake in that no threats would emanate from these regions and that the situation there would be stable.

June 30, 2004