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Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov on missile defence and Iran, February 27, 2007

Transcript of Remarks and Replies to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Briefing on Topical Russian Foreign Policy Issues, Moscow, February 27, 2007.

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, according to the IAEA, Iran has continued to engage in uranium enrichment activities. In your opinion, will Russia take a tougher stance during a vote at the UN Security Council?

And my second question. The Ahtisaari plan has not been supported by Kosovar Albanians or Serbs. What do you think, has this initiative flopped or not?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: On the first one, we have approached the situation around Iran's nuclear program most seriously. We do not want to allow any violation of the nonproliferation regime. We do not want the IAEA to face problems in its activities. In this particular case, the IAEA seeks to clarify a whole range of issues related to Iran's nuclear program, which remain unanswered. Iranian counterparts know what needs to be done to remove those issues and Iranian counterparts also know the proposals made by the six countries to Teheran in connection with the parameters for talks that would allow settling the situation around the nuclear program and also ensuring Iran's legitimate rights to have access to peaceful nuclear energy, ensuring the normalization of relations with Iran in the economic sphere, including the development of cooperation in high technology spheres and a political dialogue on regional security issues. We expect Iran to give a constructive response to those proposals. There have not been such a response thus far, unfortunately, despite all the efforts we, the IAEA leadership and some European countries have made.

As for what happens at the UN Security Council, we cannot speak in terms of tougher or softer positions. The position will be persistent. Iran must implement the decision of the IAEA Board of Governors. It must react to the concerns the IAEA still has. Everything that has been done at the UN Security Council is aimed at attaining one goal of using the authority of the key body of the United Nations to make sure that Iran would cooperate with the IAEA and, therefore, create conditions for negotiations.

I would like to add here that along with work at the Security Council, we agreed during a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, the US, and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana that along with work at the Security Council, we will take more steps to improve the chances that talks will start.

As for Kosovo, as far as I know, particularly Kosovar Albanians have voiced readiness to support Ahtisaari's plan, and this is not surprising, because the content of the plan suggests that the authors proceeded from the inevitability of Kosovo's independence, no matter what position Belgrade adheres to. It is not surprising that Belgrade has found the proposals insufficient for coming to terms on their basis. There is the understanding that contacts between Pristina and Belgrade will continue, that at a certain stage, a meeting at a high political level will be held but, frankly, we are concerned about the absence of any willingness to move closer to Belgrade's legitimate concerns. A decision that will eventually be formulated can only be mutually acceptable. And any attempts to promote, on a unilateral basis, any scheme that one party finds unacceptable cannot guarantee steady settlement and we will not be able to be part of such efforts.

Question: During consultations with Meshaal, was the issue of diplomatic assistance by Russia in the lifting of an embargo linked in any way with such issues as the recognition of Israel and rejection of violence?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I have said already and I will repeat. Perhaps, I have not stated it clear enough. The accords reached in Mecca and on its results mean substantial progress in the implementation of principles formulated by the Quartet. In fact, the only principle that has not been implemented directly is official, de jure recognition of Israel. But the fact that the Mecca accords include the recognition of existing accords, with Israel being party to them, speaks for itself. I am certain that progress is obvious and it provides sufficient grounds for moving towards the easing of the embargo and eventually lifting it.

Question: The press writes already that a US attack on Iran is just a matter of time. What do you think of the possibility of a US attack on Iran?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: First of all, I would like to say that we also read these newspapers and watch reports on television and listen to the radio. Secondly, I would like to say that Russia is not a country that is contemplating the use of force. Thirdly, we are worried that some people may be contemplating it because our recent contacts in the region, including the President's visit to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar had made it abundantly clear how serious are the concerns of these countries about the possibilities of another bloody conflict in addition to what is already happening close to their borders.

We are doing everything to prevent a military scenario. Naturally, our potential is not unlimited, but we are using it to the full and we directly raise the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, for example, in our contacts with the Europeans, the United States and China. In reply we hear that everybody is in favor of a diplomatic solution. But we cannot ignore the statements being made by high-ranking representatives of the US administration including Vice-President Richard Cheney who says no options, including the military option, can be ruled out. We for our part, are convinced that this is futile and we will do everything to prevent such a scenario.

Let me call again that this calls for flexibility on the part of "six" which has proposed negotiations, and undoubtedly a constructive response from Iran. I have already cited the example of the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem when two key players -- the United States and Pyongyang -- exhibited flexibility, chose not to stick to their initial positions, made tactical steps to meet each other which made it possible to break the deadlock. We believe that the same can and must be done with regard to the Iranian nuclear program…/p>

As to your second question, our advice to Hamas, which we presented to Khaled Meshaal today, was to continue moving towards the principles of the Quartet. That includes the recognition of Israel. But simultaneously we believe that the progress already achieved through the mediation of the King of Saudi Arabia must be rewarded. And again, I cite the example of the activities on the settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem. In the six-party talks which were resumed after the United States and Pyongyang departed from their extreme positions and made tactical steps to meet each other, an agreement has been reached to the effect that every such movement should be encouraged. A step has been taken toward fulfilling the formulated conditions on the settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem, and now a step is being taken also on aid to the DPRK. I think the same scheme can be applied in all the other situations because the "all or nothing" principle is an ultimatum, and ultimatums don't work in politics.

Question: Do you believe that the situation around the placing of elements of the American antimissile system in Europe is tense? If so, what will be an impact on the relations with the European Union?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I have spoken on this topic in some detail many times. In fact, immediately after these plans were announced, we asked our American partners for clarification. Contacts with them have been going on for several months. In the process of these contacts we are told: don't worry, this is not targeted on Russia. Our experts show calipers in hand, on the globe, what the range of Iranian missiles is and that in order to neutralize this hypothetical threat from Iran the radars and anti-ballistic missiles should not be stationed where they are proposed to be stationed. And again, we are asking the question: because the laws of ballistics say that it will not help against a hypothetical threat from Iran against whom is that system being created? We are assured that it is not against us. But dialogue continues and we hope that the dialogue will bring more clarity to the underlying concept of that system. I am also mindful of the fact that the two countries in question -- Poland and the Czech Republic -- are both NATO members and members of the European Union. We closely watch the discussion unfolding in Poland and especially in the Czech Republic, as it should be in democratic society. But equally, being members of European and Euro-Atlantic organization everyone should honor democratic principles within these organizations.

I have mentioned that there were plans of creating an antimissile NATO defense, and there was a dialogue between Russia and NATO within the Russia-NATO Council on theater antimissile missiles, the so-called tactical ABM. These dialogues were put on hold when the Americans started discussing with their Czech and Polish partners plans to create not a NATO, not a Russia-NATO, but an American antimissile defense. These are the facts. I think they show in a very concrete way the direction in which the situation is developing.

We are of course discussing it with the Americans. I have discussed it with Condoleezza Rice. The State Secretary told me that the ten or so antiballistic missiles that are to be placed in the third launch area are nothing compared to the potential of the Russian special missile forces. But in parallel other elements of antiballistic missile system are being created, in the area of the Aleutians, and now we have learned that Britain also has an interest in hosting elements of an antimissile defense. You see, if you take each individual facility that is to be installed it is probably not significant in military-strategic terms. But these facilities are growing in number, the plans are expanding and we cannot ignore this and take a relaxed view of the prospects when there will be enough elements of the antimissile defense to tempt somebody many years later to renounce the intention not to use the system against Russia. Intentions come and go. It's like Chekhov said: If you hang a rifle on a wall...

Question: I would like to ask you about cooperation with Iran on the Bushehr nuclear plant. Reportedly, deliveries of fuel or technical assistance are being delayed. And the reason is said to be financial. How can you clarify this situation?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Politically and in terms of international law there are no problems. Bushehr is a project being implemented under total control of the IAEA, in accordance with the agreements on the parameters of the project which all the states welcomed.

As for your question, it is being handled by our federal agency Rosatom and they are conducting corresponding calculations with the Iranian side. It is a technical issue and Rosatom representatives have already commented on the state of affairs, so I have nothing to add.

Question: How can the situation in Europe, I mean American bases in Poland and the Czech Republic and also perhaps in Estonia, aggravate the relations between Moscow and Brussels?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Honestly, I haven't heard about Estonia, this is news to me. As regards the relations between Moscow and Brussels, what do you mean -- NATO in Brussels or European Union in Brussels? There are some minor differences.

Our relations with the European Union are relations of partnership. It is our biggest trade partner. We are cooperating increasingly in the field of investments and we seek to develop interaction in all the four areas that have been specified in our roadmaps on the four spaces, including external security space which implies trusting partnership cooperation in order not to raise each other's suspicions, let alone pose any threats to each other.

If you really have heard about a base in Estonia, well, perhaps, it will be targeted at Iran (LAUGHTER). I don't know. Honestly, it doesn't add to confidence. You see, even if it is just a rumor, speculation is already here. It is best to avoid it and to solve the problems of national security of each of us, including the tasks of antimissile defense, on a collective basis, transparently, with each of us clearly explaining to each other against who we are trying to protect ourselves.

So, reconfiguration of the military presence in Europe which is taking place now, and especially the fact that this reconfiguration already integrated into it a strategic component such as the elements of the US national missile defense, this is all very serious and, I repeat, we have discussed this with our US colleagues. This issue was also on the agenda of the Russia-NATO Council and I hope it will remain on the agenda there. We want absolute clarity: why, what for, against who. If this is against threats that may be spearheaded against any of us, let us think together. This is what was considered when in the Russia-NATO Council we promoted a joint project related to theater missile defense. We are still ready to agree on that. The more surprises there are, and the more decisions made unilaterally, without consultations not just with us, but even with NATO and EU members, there are, the more uncertainty there is. We have stated this already and we stand for openness and clarity in the formulation of problems our partners may have. We have acted in the same manner. We have voiced our concerns clearly, and we invite everyone to engage in an open, fair and partner-like discussion and cooperation. Thank you.

Source: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.russianembassy.org.

© 2007 The Acronym Institute.