Press Briefing by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy on 27 January 2021
Dmitry Polyanskiy: I'm very glad to see all of you here. Of course, I would have preferred to see you in person, but we can only dream about this change for everybody. I hope it will be coming soon. We decided to try to be at least more transparent to the media community, because we know there are a lot of questions, a lot of issues, and we have in mind holding this kind of press briefings at least once a month. It is an open briefing. So everything I say can be quoted.
I would appreciate very much if you could send me your questions in advance, then I will have an opportunity to be better prepared and give you a more detailed answer. I also cannot exclude situations when I am not able to answer some very detailed questions from your part that require additional preparation. In that case, I will revert to you later. I count on your understanding. There are no taboo topics today. You can ask whatever you want and I will try to answer these questions.
For a start, I will make a short introduction and then I will first and foremost answer eight questions that we have received in advance from you. Then there will be Q&A time.
Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We cannot avoid making reference to that as Russia pays special attention to this issue. Every year we promote a resolution which deals, inter alia, with this matter. It is adopted by a large majority of members voting in favor with only two states voting against. I would like to bring to your attention the fact that on 25 January we sent a letter to the Secretary-General referring to the Holocaust Remembrance Day. There was a compilation of tweets by head of Ukrainian Jewish Committee Edward Dolinsky in the attachment to this letter. These tweets illustrate very numerous concrete facts of heroization of Nazi collaborators in Ukraine. I do not think we should tolerate this trend. Now everyone can read this document. It received No.81 from this year. I will not dwell in detail, I will only say with regret that heroization of Nazi collaborators in Ukraine has gone to such a serious extent that the recent publication on Ukrainian website “Ukraine Now” claims that Holocaust is the work of communist USSR. Nazi Germany is not even mentioned in this regard. We will not tolerate these facts. I invite you to download these documents. If you want us to share it with you, please signal it to Theodore, and we will do it.
Now your questions. I will refer to them in the order in which we received them. There is no politics behind my picking up this or that question first.
I was asked to comment on a recent Russian vote against US-European proposal calling on Khartoum to expedite a plan to protect civilians in Darfur. I need to say that the formula in the question seems a little bit distorted because we did not vote against any US-European proposal in this regard. I assume that you might be asking about press elements that were not adopted following the relevant meeting. But there is no significant disagreement between us and our Western colleagues. We all think that the recent clashes in Darfur that resulted in death and injury of civilian population are regrettable and deplorable. At the same time, we note that contrary to previous years, these events were closely followed by the Sudanese authorities and these clashes were of purely intercommunal nature, a long-term animosity between farmers and herders. We think that this situation is not something unusual that should be addressed by the UN, and Khartoum reacted to these developments promptly and responsibly. Sp we do not believe that we need to do anything extraordinary in this regard, we need to give to the local authorities an opportunity to prove that they are capable of taking care of their population. That was the reason behind us objecting to the press elements to be adopted. We did not consider it to be a relevant and timely action from the Council at that moment.
The second question was how we see the future of a cross-border aid mission to Syria. It depends on how we deal with this issue from now on. If you follow our briefings on humanitarian and political situation in Syria, you will note that each and every time we express our dissatisfaction as we have an impression that Western countries and some of the actors on the ground try to hinder the opportunities for cross-line deliveries to the population in need. We think that the future of humanitarian aid in Syria is in cross-line deliveries. We stress that when the cross-border mechanism (CBM) was created in Syria in 2014, the situation was totally different and the country could not control much of its territory. Now the Syrian government is in control of a much bigger part of its territory. At the same time, we agree that the Syrian authorities do not control it entirety, and that is why we were flexible enough last time the issue of prolongation of CBM was raised. Now we have one border-crossing, but we have stressed repeatedly that if Western countries artificially block the issues of cross-line deliveries, it will not bring us to the solution that they want on the CBM, because this mechanism is still very bad for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, and we will not be supporting its existence indefinitely.
At the same time, we do not see any genuine efforts to use the existing opportunities for a cross-line. For example, there is a convoy by the International Red Cross that is ready to come to Idlib, and the Syrian authorities have given all the necessary authorizations to it, so the green light from Syria is already there. It was given last April. But since that time, the convoy has not been moving. We take this situation very seriously. We think that it reflects the lack of desire to promote cross-line deliveries. Of course, it might affect our approach to the expected CBM prolongation in midsummer this year.
Another question is whether Russia still has military advisers in the Central African Republic, because, as it is believed we have sent 300 of them. Yes, we have. But we have also sent additional advisers, additional personnel at the request of the Central African government during the run-up to the elections. As you know, the situation there was very difficult. We were all very much preoccupied by these developments. And that's why when the Central African authorities asked us, we increased our presence there in terms of instructors, helicopters. But when the situation became calmer – of course it's not 100% calm in the Central African Republic, unfortunately, that is not possible at this point – we withdrew this additional contingent, additional staff and we informed the Sanctions Committee about this. So yes, we have presence there, we have advisers. This is all in line with our bilateral agreements with the Central African Republic. So nothing extraordinary about this.
The next question: what do we expect from the new US Administration? Do we think that the UN Security Council could become more effective and less divided? This is, of course, a very important and, I will say, rather philosophical issue. What can we expect from the US Administration? Now we have a little bit more reasons to be optimistic, because, as you know, yesterday our leaders, our Presidents spoke on the phone and there was an agreement to prolong for five years the START treaty. Actually, this has been the core of our position for many years.
When we started to engage with Trump Administration, we said that the START treaty needed to be prolonged without any preconditions. You know all the fluctuations of the US position in this regard, I will not repeat them. The fact that the current Administration agreed to this step which is absolutely obvious and necessary for the international security, renders us certain optimism. Does it prevent us from problems in the US-Russia relations? I wouldn't say so because we also note the composition of the external policy team of the new Administration. We see a lot of faces who are not at all unfamiliar to us. We know the position of these people vis-a-vis Russia. We understand that they will bring at least some “luggage” with them to their new positions. That's why we are a bit cautious. Of course, we will be judging the new Administration and its attitude towards Russia by its actions. So far the first action that we saw yesterday is very positive. I would also like to inform you that today the Russian Parliament already ratified this prolongation. The ball is on the US side, and we hope that it will be done very quickly.
If the attitude towards Russia is about containment, picturing Russia as a kind of a rogue state, a country that deserves isolation and sanctions without a dialogue, without an understanding what is behind the situation in the world politics that we see right now, I do not think there will be much of a breakthrough. We are not too pessimistic, we are realists. We are ready to deal with any Administration. It is the choice of the American people. Despite all the claims, we were ready to deal with the Trump Administration. We were ready to deal with the Clinton Administration. Again, it's up to the American people to make its choice. But we expect the US approach towards Russia to be objective, we expect their readiness to engage in a serious dialogue, because apart from the prolongation of the START treaty there are a lot of security and strategic issues on the table. They should be tackled in a serious in-depth dialogue on an equal footing. We are ready for such a dialogue. We have been proposing such a dialogue for many years. But the issue of sanctions, the issue of the containment of Russia has overshadowed it. I do not know how if it will be in the new Administration, it is still for us to see and to understand. We are cautiously optimistic because of the yesterday's discussion, at the same time we will be judging our American colleagues by the things they do and by the things they declare. If you want any particular details, I'm ready to come back to them later.
Next questions regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, chances for a renewed diplomacy in Libya, chances for peace and departure of foreign forces in the Central African Republic. I have partially covered the last issue. The situation in the Central African Republic is complex. Our presence there is in accordance with our bilateral agreements and with a full support of the government of this country. The more the situation stabilizes, the less need for any foreign presence there will be.
The same situation is in Libya. There are chances for breakthroughs in Libya. Recent discussions in Geneva have brought out very optimistic results. We are still looking forward to learning more details. For us the core approach to the situation in Libya is inclusiveness. We already stepped into this minefield several times when we were trying to ignore the position of certain Libyan fractions and then it backfired. We need to avoid this situation now, I mean avoid a scenario when agreements are presented as universal and comprehensive, while some important factions and actors are not satisfied with them. Otherwise, in the end it will undermine our whole effort. But if the process is inclusive, if everybody on the Libyan soil supports this undertaking, I do not think we will have any reasons to be negative about these developments.
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have never departed from a two-state solution and from the basis for the Palestinian settlement that was defined by the United Nations relevant resolutions, which are well known. I believe it is the longest conflict situation with which the UN is dealing. We do not think we should depart from this understanding. At the same time, we note some changes in the region, some trends that are positive in our understanding, provided they do not come at the expense of Palestinian interests. Yesterday, when our Foreign Minister was speaking at the Security Council meeting, he launched several initiatives which are not completely new. For example, the invitation of Palestinian and Israeli leaders to Moscow for negotiations. It has been on the table for quite a while already. The invitation is open. They know about it. The moment they are ready, they are welcome to come to Moscow. The two sides need to speak, the dialogue is a solution. Absence of dialogue will not be satisfactory. That's why we support this possible scenario. We support the work of the Middle East Quartet as the main mechanism.
There was also a question about Russia's response to protests and foreign condemnation of actions around the Navalny case. This is also a big issue, I can answer it in detail if you want some specific things to be highlighted. I would like to stress that this is, first and foremost, the internal matter of Russia. It is a matter of our internal politics. That is why we will not tolerate any foreign interference into this situation. Unfortunately, what we have seen recently, amounts to a large scale interference into Russia's internal affairs in the context of the Navalny case. I will specifically mention the note on the website of the US embassy in Moscow which was the basis for a very hard conversation between our Deputy FM Sergey Ryabkov and the US Ambassador in Moscow. This publication was made in a form of a warning for American citizens not to attend, not to be present in locations where mass rallies of opposition were taking place. The problem is that it was formulated as an appeal for action. There was information about numerous cities. It is very difficult to get all such information if you do not monitor opposition websites and do not have any direct contact with organizers of these rallies. What was specifically bad is that the Americans also highlighted the routes of these protests.
For example, if it was a meeting in Moscow, in the Pushkin Square, they would say that the crowd was supposed to move towards Kremlin, though it was not even the initial plan of the organizers. Each time there was a plan of action: where to go, what to do, where to come together. This was very bad. It is impossible to have an impression other than that was an appeal for action, rather than just a warning for American citizens. You also know that the number of American citizens and tourists in Moscow in times of the pandemic is limited.
There are other examples. I would also say that attention to this domestic, internal issue is exaggerated. There is also exaggerated and falsified information about alleged police brutality towards protesters. Judging from the video footage that I saw, I can tell you that police was not engaging in any action unless protesters clearly provoked them and started to attack police officers. Such actions are not tolerated in any country.
Why do I say that it is over exaggerated? Recently we have seen many examples of protest actions, and they continue in the United States right now, though they are not in the limelight. There was also a very brutal beating of demonstrators by the police in the Netherlands. The footage that we saw is really appalling. I cannot also avoid referring to the situation with the assault on the Congress. I am not citing these examples to say that we support all these actions, far from this. As the international community, we should have a unified approach. If somebody protests, it is his/her right to protest, but it shouldn't be viewed as the right to attack police officers, break the law and order to engage in some kind of looting activities. No country will tolerate this. And Russia is not an exception.
So I appeal to everybody to approach this issue from this position. I do not think I need to make any reference to the so-called Navalny case as such. If you have such an interest, please let me know.
There was also a question about the Secretary-General signing a partnership agreement between the World Economic Forum, an organization promoting multistakeholderism, and the UN. Does the Russian Federation feel that the membership of the UN should be the judge of whether such a partnership is appropriate for the UN or is it adequate for the Secretary-General to make such a decision? Well, it depends on what are the consequences of such an agreement. Frankly speaking, I cannot claim that I know a lot of details about it. But the Secretary-General has the right to sign agreements on certain issues. If it affects the prerogatives of Member States, he is a very disciplined man and he usually consults with the UN membership on this. That was not the case. As far as my experts told me, this strategic partnership framework was signed in June 2019. We heard that there were certain concerns expressed by the civil society regarding the alleged increase of influence from multinational enterprises control forum on the UN Secretariat. We do not think that this agreement poses a challenge to the intergovernmental nature of the UN. It has been and will be the core element of its unique legitimacy. We know that there are discussions in the UN since the beginning of the 1990s about the engagement of relevant stakeholders from private sector, civil society and academia. The General Assembly recognized the importance of benefits of continued interaction with the international community along these lines. So we recognize the value of continuous efforts, especially amidst the deepening economic crisis, to mobilize additional financial resources for the development and the implementation of Agenda 2030, especially in the case of least developed countries. We see that the move that I am asked about goes in this direction. We will closely follow what comes out of it, and judge the consequences on the basis of what will be happening.
This is the end of the part of prepared questions and answers. I am ready to take more questions. We have about half an hour. I think we should be disciplined and limit our press conference to one hour, maybe one hour and a little bit more.
Q: My question is a follow-up on the New START agreement. Both Russian President Putin and US President Biden put out statements that there was an agreement to move forward on an extension of the New START, but there seemed to be some differences that have to be worked out before 1 February. Can you clarify that? Thank you so much.
A: I think it's not about 1 February, but about 5 February. But you're right. There was a certain kind of controversy. When there was a political announcement from President Biden that the new Administration is ready to prolong the START agreement, I myself tweeted: "the devil is in the details". Because if there are any conditions to that, especially those which we have heard from the previous Administration, it will complicate the whole thing. But as far as I understand, there was a certain exchange between our Foreign Ministries and also in the conversation of our Presidents yesterday, to which I referred. It was clarified that the American side does not insist on any preconditions. So it's a mere prolongation for five years. And that was the scenario that we promoted from the very beginning. That's why I frankly don't see any obstacles. And I repeat that on our side the Russian Parliament already completed this procedure in a very expedited way today. We hope that the American side will also be expedite and we will not miss the deadline of the 5 February. We still have some time.
It does not deprive us of the possibility of a more all-embracing dialogue on strategic issues that we are ready to wage, we are ready to engage in any conversation on strategic issues on arms race. You know that the system of arms control has suffered some heavy losses recently. One of the latest victims was Open Skies Treaty. We didn't see any benefits in staying in this agreement after the United States withdrew from it. It makes absolutely no sense for us and it becomes unbalanced in this regard. I hope you all understand the reasoning. The INF Treaty was also a victim. It's very good that with the START Treaty we are now showing that the trend starts to change.
Hopefully, this will bring about more results and agreements on arms control, on strategic issues, and first and foremost - more discussions, because without discussions there might be no agreements. It's difficult to achieve anything through accusations, blackmailing, campaigns. It serves the opposite results.
Q: You mentioned that we've seen the demise of the INF and Open Skies as well. But I was hoping you could talk about what Russia hopes to achieve within the field of disarmament more generally ahead of the NPT Review Conference this year. And if you could remark a bit about the Nuclear Ban Treaty organized by civil society, how does Russia view this treaty within the broader non-proliferation regime?
A: I will try to answer this question in as much detail as I can without preparation. But I can tell you that the Comprehensive Nuclear Ban Treaty is, of course, a very beautiful slogan. It's a beautiful initiative, but unfortunately, it can't lead to the results that the countries involved had in mind when launching this initiative. The issue of riddance of nuclear weapons is not resolved by such initiatives, because as far as I am informed, all the nuclear powers reject such an approach.
We think that there should be some consensual process on this issue. And that's how the NPT framework is working. We think that the Nuclear Ban Treaty to a certain extent also undermines the NPT framework, which is very dangerous and could lead us to situations that we don't want to see. So we stick to the NPT and we stick to the NPT regimes.
JCPOA was one of the most important achievements in this regard. We hope that we will see the situation when the United States returns to the JCPOA. We would welcome such a scenario. It would be beneficial for the whole world. And it would make our world a less dangerous place.
Of course we note that Iran has also made several steps that run counter to this JCPOA framework and to UNSC resolution 2231. But first and foremost, these steps are reversible. This is very important. Secondly, they formally have the right to do so after the United States withdrew and started to violate this Treaty by all possible means. Provided that there is good will of the new US Administration, we can also mend the JCPOA and the NPT issue regarding Iran.
To sum up, we were not very glad with the fact that the Nuclear Ban Treaty entered into force. We don't think it will change anything in the world. We think it would only complicate our work on the NPT issues and also bring additional problems to the relevant discussion on this topic.
Q: I have a couple of follow-up questions. First, on the Central African Republic, you took out these 300 instructors and some equipment. How many military instructors and people do you still have in the CAR? Secondly, on President Putin's discussion yesterday with President Biden. The White House said that President Biden raised several other issues, including Russia's Involvement in a massive cyber espionage campaign and reports of Russian bounties on American troops. We didn't hear any reaction from the Russian side on those issues. And I wonder if you could comment on those. And as a final follow-up on what you just said about the JCPOA. Does Russia support the idea of any kind of a follow-on agreement if the US actually does rejoin the original JCPOA with no changes?
A: I will try to be as brief as I can. On CAR, frankly, I have no idea how many people we have there as instructors, really. I know that our task there is limited to the preparation of national army and national forces of this country. We think that in order for a country to be sustainable, it should really be able to defend itself and to "rise from its knees to its feet". That's what we are doing. And my impression is that the detachments that were prepared by Russia, by our instructors, played a very important role in the defense of the sovereignty of this country in the run-up to the elections. We don't think that we are the only player there. In this regard, we are cooperating first and foremost with the European Union – with France. So it's not a zero-sum game. Everybody is welcome who sincerely wants to help this country regain its full sovereignty and full force. As for the numbers, I am sorry. I will try to check on this afterwards, but I have no idea how many people we have there.
On Putin-Biden conversation, we understand that any American politician or any American leader who is now engaging with Russia or with China has a certain luggage of issues which he is supposed to flag. And I think this is the situation. I haven't seen the transcript. I do not know whether these issues that Jen Psaki mentioned were raised by President Biden. I assume they were. In what way - I also don't know. But I understand that for internal reasons, for the coverage and in order not to be accused of being "Russian agents", of course the American President needs to flag that these issues were raised. But I also heard that it doesn't help, because some Republicans are already saying that he's a "Russian agent". This is a never ending story.
As for the accusations of cyber espionage, Taliban bounties, and everything - it is a never-ending "highly likely" situation. We haven't seen the proofs. There are a lot of allegations, but there are no proofs and no facts. People are saying “it's common knowledge that they received this information”. But when we ask for details they say that they can't share them with us because they're classified, or because we do not deserve sharing them. That's the approach that we don't like. We want proofs, irrefutable proofs. We are still waiting for them. It's not only about these allegations, it's about any allegations - about Skripal, Navalny alleged poisoning, about everything. Please give us the proofs. And there is a presumption of innocence: we are innocent unless you prove otherwise. That's our approach. But unfortunately, the presumption of innocence doesn't work in this situation. People are claiming that Russia should prove that it is innocent and dissuade all the allegations.This is the wrong approach.
With regard to alleged meddling in US elections, cyber espionage, hacking and so on, I would refer to our initiatives that are on the table and that the American side is considering or is supposed to consider. For example, I think it was in the context of Helsinki Summit in July 2018, that we proposed to exchange letters on mutual commitments, on non-interference in each other's internal affairs. It was similar to very historic Roosevelt-Litvinov exchange of 1933. And this issue is still on the table. We haven't got a reply. Maybe this could be a solution and could give necessary signal to the public.
I would also refer to some other proposals in cyber sphere. As you might know, at the end of September, our President made a statement on a comprehensive system of measures to restore Russia-US cooperation in international information security. This is a practical proposal, not allegations. Again, if you have anything that worries you, please let's discuss it. Russia is a big country. There are many people living in Russia. I can't say that everyone is exemplary citizen. There might be activities that we don't know about. But if you have proofs, please give us the proofs. And if you want to link some ruling circles to these, you should have iron-clad reasons for this. And we haven't seen a single proof apart from allegations. This is a practical proposal. If you are worried, let's agree on measures for international information security. This is the practical step that we propose.
As for the Taliban and bounties, I think that this story was launched by a very reliable (it's my irony of course) source of information, The New York Times that I regularly pay tribute to at our Security Council meetings. Unfortunately, my good friend German Permanent Representative Christoph [Heusgen] is no longer there to keep up this discussion.
So these were allegations. Then I think the same sources said that it was China rather than Russia behind this. But even the Taliban rejected it, saying that it was total nonsense and they had enough reasons to be hunting for US soldiers apart from any bounty from Russia. But again, I'm not going to get into details. I would tell you that we are still waiting for proofs, at least any proofs, at least tiny ones. But there are no proofs, only allegations. If it continues like this, it will further poison our relations and bring no positive results. And the whole world, I think, will feel the consequences of this wrong situation.
On your third question on follow-up agreements, we think that these are two different processes. First and foremost, we need to mend the JCPOA and the path is absolutely clear. The United States is very much welcome, but without any preconditions, of course. And we think that we will be able to renew our commitment to this agreement. This is the scenario that we would all be speaking in favor of. It doesn't exclude that there should be a process of a regional dialogue, of some confidence-building measures, of countries speaking to each other and understanding, identifying the sources and the reasons of tensions in the region. There are numerous proposals in this regard, and I think all of them are welcome. I would draw your attention to two moments.
First, our concept on dialogue and cooperation in the Persian Gulf, which was launched two years ago. I would also advise you to reread the transcript of the meeting of the Security Council, a virtual meeting which was held during our Presidency on October 20, if I'm not mistaken, which was entirely devoted to the cooperation in the Persian Gulf. And we think that such kind of regional dialogue is indispensable, but it's not linked to the JCPOA. It shouldn't be part of the 'JCPOA Plus'.
The JCPOA was really a genius achievement of the world diplomacy, very many people were working on this for many years and I think they achieved it. It reflected the balance of interest. At this time, we don't see any reasons for it to be modified. Its implementation is going on. Resolution 2231 was adopted in this regard. We all recently, as you know, all but a couple of countries were very ardent in confirming our alliance to this resolution. So this is a good process per se. It doesn't exclude other processes, but they should be conducted in other fora, in other ways, and they shouldn't be linked to the JCPOA. This this is our approach.
Q: I've got another question about Mr. Lavrov's briefing in the Security Council on the Middle East peace yesterday. One of his proposals was for some kind of expanded Quartet Plus meetings involving a few Arab countries as well to address issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I was interested in who those countries were. You've got Jordan and Egypt who've got longstanding peace treaties with Israel. And then the addition of Bahrain and the UAE. They're two of the countries that signed this recent normalization deals with Israel. Is this Moscow's way of saying that the way forward might be for more normalization deals between Arab states and Israel? Could you answer that and also tell us a little bit more about why this particular format of meeting, how that would contribute towards improving ties between the Israelis and Palestinians?
A: As I told you, our basic approach is that all the divergences, all the differences of opinion should be sorted out in the form of a dialogue. Of course, we would welcome any kind of dialogue. It's up to the Arab states and Israel to decide in what form they would engage in such a dialogue. If there is a genuine wish for normalization of relations between certain Arab countries and Israel, we would only welcome this trend. It's absolutely clear.
Having said this, again, we think that it would be very shortsighted to forget about the Palestinian issue in this regard. It's not up to us to advise the Arab States and Israel how they should act. But we know that the Palestinian issue has been a bleeding wound for many years. And the basic approaches of the international community, which I think are shared by almost everybody, including the States that have announced their normalization with Israel, as far as we understand it. They also confirm that they are still supporting the basic principles of Middle Eastern settlements. That's why there is no contradiction as far as we understand.
We think that we should not forget about the Arab Peace Initiative and the two-state solution. We continue to support the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian State within the 1967 borders and with the capital in East Jerusalem. Nothing has changed in our position since then. The collective efforts are necessary for this.
We have the most precious tool to achieve such a transformation, such a peaceful breakthrough. It's the Quartet of international mediators. As you know, it is the United Nations, Russia, the European Union, the United States. We understand that there are certain reasons behind this mechanism being inactive for several years. And it was not our fault. We tried to do as much as we could. Now we see some encouraging signals from the new Administration that would be more devoted to collective efforts and performance. We think that the Quartet is the most becoming framework for this. Regional players are also very much welcome to bring value added to this work. That's why we note regional efforts. And that was the reason for our idea to launch these kinds of the 'Quartet plus' formats. Who can be the participants? You mentioned Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Maybe Saudi Arabia. It's an open issue. We think that everybody who can make a positive input in this process is very much welcome.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that we propose to hold such a meeting at the end of spring-beginning of summer this year. These proposals are being finalized. And I think we are already engaging with regional players and with the new Special Envoy on the Middle East Mr. Wennesland. We haven't heard anybody speaking against this initiative, which, of course, gives us some optimism.
The key issue that needs to be solved right now would be the attitude of the new Administration. Apart from encouraging initial signals, there are no practical moves so far. As soon as we see these moves, as soon as the United States, hopefully, appoints some representative in this Quartet format, we can move forward with more substance and dynamics.
Q: My question is on the Iran nuclear deal. How do you see the scenario for the US to engage again on the nuclear deal and also for Iran to come back to its obligations under the deal? Do you have any scenario on your mind? What's the first step you think should be taken from what side? And do you know any information about what's happening now behind the scenes? Is there any talks happening or preparations or mediation maybe to bring parties back to the table?
A: I would say that the most important venue for these efforts would not be New York. It would be rather Vienna. Everything you are asking about is written in the JCPOA. As we see, the first step would be the clear expression of the United States to come back to the JCPOA. This is indispensable, and again, we think that it would be counterproductive to frame it with any preconditions towards Iran. For example: “we would return if Iran...” you know... and then the list can be very long. The fact is that, as I told you, all the deviations that Iran has pursued in line with the JCPOA, are foreseen in the JCPOA. It's not something from the sky. There are concrete articles – I don't have them now in front of me, but you will find them – which formally allow Iran to take such steps. And I can assure you that Iran could have taken more radical steps, because the scope of this possible deviation was not defined. Iran's reaction -- it's my personal assessment, but some of my colleagues also say it -- was very moderate in this regard. Of course, Iranians don't like such situation. They are absolutely clearly saying that the reason for all these problems is the decision of Washington to withdraw. That's why the first step is for the United States to clearly say, "We are back in." Then it should be discussed in Vienna in the framework of the JCPOA. And the second step would be for Iran to say what Iran will do, how it will respond, how these steps that were taken within the framework of the JCPOA will be reversed. I think this is logical. There might be some minor details that I don't know, but the general scheme would be like this. Everything is in the JCPOA. We're waiting for the concrete steps from the new Administration to confirm its wish to return to the JCPOA. We would hope that there will be no preconditions that would nullify this desire. And I think it will be our colleagues in Vienna who will be playing this game in accordance with the rules that are very clearly defined in the JCPOA. We will watch and then at some point, the ball will come here to New York, but I don't think it will be in the near prospect.
Q: If I may follow up, please. You already said minutes ago that all other issues should be discussed under maybe different frames. But it is obvious that the nuclear deal did cause consequences in the region and that Iran approached the region in a different way after the deal. It expanded its influence militarily and politically. And with any dialogue happening in the region ballistic missiles are part of that dialogue, unfortunately. Regarding Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc. Don't you see that there is a very urgent need to include the regional aspects or consequences in any dialogue or discussions on the deal in the near future?
A: Well, as far as I understand, the JCPOA is about NPT. This is a bit different framework, it's a more general one. All the issues that you mentioned, they are absolutely relevant, of course. Nobody is pretending that they do not exist. Nobody is saying that they shouldn't be discussed. They should. I remember that in the run-up to the meeting on 20 October that I referred to, we were engaging in consultations with different regional countries. It was very interesting. I will not name specific states, but even the most ardent protagonists in the region, I mean from the Arab world, they would say: “We do not have bilateral issues with Iran, we have nothing against Iran. We are neighbors. We are ready to work and cooperate, but…” Then after that “but” there was a certain list of steps which for me reflect first and foremost a lack, or even absence of trust. And this is the most important thing. Trust should be rebuilt there.
You said that Iran expanded its influence in the region, but Iran is part of the region. If Iran were somewhere else, in America, for example, and would expand its influence, that would be a strange thing, but it is natural for Iran to have influence in this region, as for Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. We don’t pretend that we should expand our influence in the region. We think that we should help these countries come to terms and make a kind of a peace deal to make this part of the world a less dangerous place at least.
We would welcome any dialogue of such kind. But if we approach it from the prospect “let's make something out of JCPOA and let's not move in the JCPOA framework”, that would be a mistake unless we move in regional framework. Again, the negotiations on the JCPOA were very difficult. They took for many years and it was enormously difficult to reach this deal. This is a very fragile deal and it was on the brink of death after the United States had withdrawn. It was, as you know, an enormous effort from us and I would specifically praise our European friends who really understand the importance of this deal. They were very patient and very self-restrained, especially last year with all those strange and deplorable US initiatives vis-à-vis JCPOA.
We managed to save the deal and we managed to keep it alive. We all hope that the new US Administration will make some practical moves in this regard. But again, you shouldn't mix it up with this regional framework which exists. We all understand its importance. We should engage in dialogue step-by-step. We should engage in agreement on confidence-building measures, no doubts about it. But don't mix up these two things, because this could ruin the whole fragile construction on this issue.
Q: Of all things and risks that are happening in the Middle East, Israel’s attacks on Syria have been so frequent these days. Also, there is a resurgence of ISIS. Russia is in Syria, is involved in Astana format and on the ground. What role should Russia do to mitigate or alleviate the situation, especially the economic situation in Syria, which is bad?
And there is a lot of pressure from the north, from the Turkish side, on the humanitarian side. Do you believe that there should be some kind of Russian-Israeli dialogue? And how do you coordinate with the Americans regarding the resurgence of ISIS and the attacks, especially in Iraq and in Syria?
Q: Ambassador, on START, since it was signed a decade ago, the issues that are covered by the treaty – China has made huge strides on those issues. Should China be added to the START? And without China, is the treaty really as effective?
Q: There was recently a military incident between India and China. The two countries are in the Security Council. Do you think it's a subject for the Security Council?
A: On the first question - there is a Russian-Israeli dialogue. We have relations with Israel and we continued our dialogue even in the most difficult times and situations. Dialogue doesn't always that countries that engage in dialogue would be allies and would support 100% of what each other is doing. I think this is an indispensable understanding that dialogue is for the sake of avoiding problems, for the sake of being transparent, increasing trust and confidence. We are engaged in dialogue in many parts of the world and Israel is not an exception. We regularly discuss different issues with Tel Aviv.
You can also ask how we coordinate with the United States. Unfortunately, we do not. For many years there has been no dialogue between Russia and the United States. There were only accusations. And that's the core problem. We were making proposals and they were at least ignored or criticized. But then there were new accusations vis-a-vis Russia that in the eyes of Americans made this dialogue absolutely impossible. That was the line of the previous Administration, which is claimed to be a kind of friendly to Russia. I don't know why, nobody could explain this to me. Is it because we allegedly chose that President? You know, there were such allegations. But we would be fools to choose a president who was as friendly to us as Trump was.
I think the whole world was and is suffering from the lack of such US-Russian dialogue, including on regional security issues. You're absolutely right to flag the issues of ISIS resurgence. This is really something that we need to do all together.
We are ready to engage in any kind of dialogue with the United States, including special services dialogue, intelligence dialogue, political dialogue, etc. But for the time being, we can't boast that there were a lot of contacts.
The only exclusion migth be military deconflicting. There were some contacts on this issue, because otherwise it wouldn't be possible for us and for Americans to be in one region without a possibility of a very serious military clash. Unfortunately, that was the only core of our dialogue.
To the other part of your question. Russia is helping and will continue to help Syria in its legitimate right to restore territory and national sovereignty. There is no doubt about it. We think also that it is necessary for the international community, for Western countries to participate in these reconstruction efforts that help Syrian people.
We repeatedly raise the issue of coercive measures and sanctions against Syria and other vulnerable countries that, let's put it this way, may make the sufferings of these people much worse. We think it's absolutely hideous that such sanctions exist. We are not speaking about ourselves, about sanctions against Russia in this context. We are speaking about states that are the most vulnerable and the most affected. Syria is one of them. A lot of humanitarian agencies say they can't conduct their work because of these sanctions, because they can't get bank transfers, engage in signing contracts with other organizations. They are all afraid of being targeted by the sanctions.
That's why when our American and European friends say that their sanctions are targeted, this is totally not true. We provided concrete examples, and also UN Special Rapporteur on the impact of sanctions Ms. Douhan made special reports in this regard. This is open information.
Now to the START treaty and question if it is the time for China to join. Well, it's up to China to decide. We can't force this country to join any discussions that it doesn't want to join.
But the problem is not in China right now. That was the core problem for us with the Trump Administration on the New START treaty issue, on the issue of strategic stability. If you take the numbers, if you take the real situation on the ground, there is absolutely no doubt that it is the problem between Russia and the United States. It's up to us to engage in this dialogue, to sort out the issues and limit the possibilities for developing and producing such weapons. The numbers are absolutely overwhelming in the case of Russia and the United States.
Speaking about a broader context of strategic negotiations, of course, we should mention not only China, but also other nuclear powers, first of all the United Kingdom and France who might join such a discussion. But this is only a theoretical exercise. So far, nothing practical is being done in this regard. And the most pressing issue is re-engagement of Russia and the United States in any kind of strategic dialogue. The hopeful success and prolongation of START will give a new boost to these efforts.
There are a lot of other initiatives. For example, we proposed to make a joint statement on the inadmissibility of a nuclear war. I think this would be a very good scenario and it would bring us to the spirit of the détente, the end of the 80s. So far, the Americans have not responded to this. We know that in their strategic concept they admit certain limited usage of nuclear weapons right now. And they are working on kind of making this weaponry more compact. This is a very dangerous path. That's why this idea of confirming the inadmissibility of nuclear war, in our view, is very important for our strategic planning. This is one of the initiatives that could boost this dialogue.
Again, right now it's not about China’s joining. It's not the most burning issue. It's up to the Chinese to decide whether they want to join now or not.
About India and China. Well, we are all very worried, of course, these are two very big neighbors and two nuclear powers. We want to avoid any incidents between them. They should, first and foremost, discuss these issues in bilateral framework. They have all the necessary tools for this. And we don't see that this is an issue that should be discussed on the Security Council agenda. So we will monitor the situation and we will engage with two our important neighbors and partners in the BRICS formats in this regard and try to do everything we can bilaterally to make understanding between our two neighbors more solid and more longing.
With this, I think I will end our briefing , and I would like to thank all of you. I have been happy to see you at least virtually. And let's hope for the close end of the pandemic and the return to normality when we meet in our press conference room.