Excerpts from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Senior Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia Prak Sokhon
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, we hope that the current intensive consultations between the participants in the Astana format will allow them to conclude agreements on the fourth de-escalation zone in Idlib following the zones in south-western Syria, Eastern Guta and Homs. The gist of the de-escalation zones initiative was to create, as soon as possible, stable conditions for an end to bloodshed, and the beginning of dialogue between the Syrian Government and local authorities cooperating with various armed groups. It is absolutely clear that such truces cannot apply to terrorists from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups blacklisted by the UN Security Council. One of the most complicated tasks at negotiations on de-escalation zones was to separate the normal armed opposition from terrorists, including Jabhat al-Nusra – something the Obama administration promised to do but failed. Now these opportunities are being used fairly efficiently. The armed units that signed agreements on three operating de-escalation zones have assumed commitments to separate from Jabhat al-Nusra, which remains an absolutely legitimate target for air strikes along with ISIS.
As for Moscow-Washington relations and their impact on work in Syria, we are pragmatists and understand that there is no room for grievances or a misplaced sense of prestige. This is a threat to all of us, not only the future for the peoples of this region - Syria and other states. Terrorists are already operating in Europe, overseas and in South-Eastern and Central Asia. So we have common tasks in this respect and realise the responsibility of the work that is now being done.
As far as I heard from US officials, including US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, their approach is the same. Ms Nauert even expressed the desire to expand a sphere of cooperation the other day. We are ready for this and are talking about this all the time. It wasn’t us who started this absolutely useless struggle in the world arena and set this incomprehensible sanctions spiral in motion. We hope that cooler heads and common sense will finally prevail.
By the way, you also mentioned humanitarian cooperation. Delivery of humanitarian relief has substantially improved after the formation of these de-escalation zones, including its supply inside these zones. At first we had to whip up our colleagues from international organisations who were a bit slow. We reminded them that when the developments in Aleppo and other parts of Syria were very alarming, they were permanently demanding that armed actions must be stopped for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Now that armed actions have stopped, humanitarian agencies are not very active in transporting their cargo to the de-escalation zones. I hope now this will improve. At any rate UN statistics on this account are very positive and the trend is good.
Question: Washington is accusing Moscow of supplying weapons to the Taliban. Moscow has convincingly rejected this more than once. Why was this issue raised again?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not the first time we are accused of supporting and even arming the Taliban. Recently, the Department of State made this accusation. At a news conference in the Department of States journalists asked the official spokesperson to present facts but not a single fact was presented just like there was not a single fact to confirm our interference in the US election, breaking into sites, or government-supported hackers. It is sad that a campaign based on falsehoods is generating so much heat in a serious country like the United States. Let me repeat that the people driving it have nothing to be proud of.
Speaking about the Taliban, and Afghanistan and the United States in general, our Foreign Ministry expressed regret in its comment that the new strategy announced by Washington is focused on achieving a settlement by force. We are convinced that this strategy has no prospects. In parallel, we noted that this strategy reflects the White House’s fairly interesting position on relations with the Taliban.
Let me recall that up to now we have cited two reasons for our contacts with the Taliban: first, the need to resolve practical issues on which security of our citizens and offices in Afghanistan depends, and, second, a striving to encourage the Taliban to dialogue with the Government and official authorities of Afghanistan on the basis of the criteria (this is important) established by the UN Security Council. The latter ruled that if the Taliban complies with three requirements – break ties with terrorists, end the armed struggle and respect the Constitution of Afghanistan – they will have the right to sit at the negotiating table. We are maintaining contacts with the Taliban exclusively on these terms, pushing them to comply with the requirements of the UN Security Council.
If I understood the new US strategy correctly, they allow contacts with the Taliban without the Taliban’s complying with any terms whatsoever. I don’t think this meets our common interest in following a coordinated line that is endorsed by the UN Security Council but hope we will provide insight into this apparent contradiction during our contacts with US experts on Afghanistan.