Press Conference by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia on the occasion of Russian Presidency in the Security Council in October, 2020
Vassily Nebenzia: Dear colleagues, it is a pleasure to see you in this room. It's been a long time since I've been here. You are scattered and you are not plenty. But I know that we are being followed through a VTC. I would like to give you a traditional briefing of the Presidency of the Security Council for the month of October.
We succeeded the presidency of Niger, which was testing, but everybody knows, we discussed it both at our presidential breakfast and amongst ourselves, that Niger did it fine and with grace, I would say. And it went through stormy waters, which we experienced during this month with flying colors. Today had a historic event. We finally went into the Security Council chamber after nearly seven months of absence.
We were approaching it for a long time already starting with the German Presidency in July. Germany was a strong advocate to go back to the chamber. There was some obstacles on that way, but we were accumulating support as we went. And by the end of September, the support was overwhelming. We are not, of course, reckless. We understand the risks. We are planning to uphold necessary, reasonable and feasible precautionary measures in the chamber. The agreement was that we will wear masks and besides that, we will have partitions between the delegations that we volunteered to make. We made a sample, today we tested it. I think we will be able to go to the chamber for an in-person meeting for the first time on 8 October.
Before that we will be holding in-person meetings in the ECOSOC Chamber. And of course, we will be holding VTC meetings, especially for open debates. That is justified, because there may be a high turnout with many people delivering their statements from the outside.
Now, I would like to give you a brief outlook of what we are having this month in our program.
We start tomorrow with the adoption of a draft resolution extending the inspection regime off the coast of Libya. That is a Security Council resolution 2240 on illegal migrations. And later, we will have consultations on the UN disengagement observer force briefed by ASG Khalid Khiari.
Now - the second week of our Presidency, which starts on 5 October. There will be a VTC meeting on Haiti in the morning and an in-person meeting in the ECOSOC Chamber on the Middle East, on Syria chemical. We will do it again in the open like we did it last month. Izumi Nakamitsu will brief us. We are planning an additional briefer on whom we hope to inform the Council shortly. On 6 October there will be a briefing on MONUSCO, DRC, through a VTC in the afternoon. Then we will have a break on the 7th.
On 8 October we have a meeting on MINUSMA, hopefully in the chamber of the Security Council. Given the recent developments in Mali, that briefing will be particularly interesting. On 12 October we will have a VTC meeting with the troop contributing countries, and on 13 October — an in-person meeting on the Great Lakes region with a briefing by Mr. Huang Xia, the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region. On 14 October we will have consultations on MINURSO with ASG Bintou Keita and Colin Stewart as briefers. In the morning, we are planning to have a meeting in the chamber, briefing and consultations on Colombia with Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General. On 15 October there will be an adoption of a resolution on Haiti, also in the chamber, followed by a briefing on Yemen by Martin Griffiths and Mark Lowcock. On 19 October we will have briefing on MINUSCA with SRGG Mankeur Ndiaye as well as with the African Union and the European Union briefing us on it.
On 20 October we will have the first signature event of the Russian presidency under the title “Maintenance of International Peace and Security”, comprehensive review of the situation in the Gulf Region. You're all very well aware of what was happening, what were the developments recently in and around the region. We are aiming at a pragmatic exchange of views, at a pragmatic dialogue on how to build regional security for all in the short and in the long term perspective. We are inviting Secretary-General to brief us, as well as the Gulf countries to speak in the meeting. And for the reasons I described before, that will be a VTC meeting.
On 21 October there will be a weekly meeting on UNMIK, UN Mission in Kosovo. On 22 October we will have an in-person meeting on UNISFA, Sudan/South Sudan. On 26 October there will be an open debate on the Middle East through the VTC. In the morning on 27 October we will have a briefing and consultations on Syria, this time we proposed to combine both political and humanitarian with the understanding that if certain developments require it, we will separate them.
On 28 October there will be a private meeting with ICG President Yusuf. And in the afternoon we will have an adoption of the resolution on MINURSO, followed by two briefings on Somalia and Lebanon, consultations on resolutions and sanctions on Somalia and the resolution on Lebanon. 29 October is practically the last day of our Presidency. There will be a second signature event — open debate on women, peace and security, which marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325.
That topic attracts great attention of my colleagues in the Security Council, as well as the larger membership. I just had a briefing for the UN Member-States and all of them took up this subject, saying how important it is, citing the lack of progress in the implementation of the resolution and the need to take extra efforts to ensure such implementation. We envisage a draft resolution on the issue, a short one and non-controversial, confirming the provisions of 1325 and paving the way forward.
We're inviting Secretary-General to brief us, and I'm sure he will eagerly brief us on the subject, being a great gender champion. Of course, the executive director of the UN Women will be there as well as a woman peacekeeper and a representative of the civil society. As it will be a high-level event and many leaders and ministers would like to speak, we will have to organize it through a VTC.
Finally, on 30 October we will have a traditional so-called Toledo formula briefing for the Member-States on the occasion of the end of our Presidency. That ends my hopefully short presentation of our program.
Q.: It is a great pleasure to see you in person here. So I have two questions, the first one is on Nagorno-Karabakh. After the joint statement by Presidents Putin, Trump, and Macron are there any discussions in the Security Council to hold a meeting on the situation? The second one is on Libya. Some sources say that Mr. Mladenov is the most likely choice as a new Special Envoy. Can you confirm? And in any case, is there progress on the appointments?
A.: As you know, earlier this week the council had an AOB on Nagorno-Karabakh and came up with press elements that were drafted by three Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. That was quite a strong statement calling for the obvious, expressing concern, calling for an immediate ceasefire and for negotiations through the offices of the Minsk Group. Today, as you know, Presidents of the Co-Chair countries of the Minsk group came up with another statement which takes the issue now at the next, higher level, testifying how serious they consider and treat the developments.
I hope this will have an effect on the conflicting parties. We hear various statements coming from the region. When we were speaking at the AOB, I will betray a little secret, we were saying in the end of our statement that, of course, the Minsk Group is the only established format that is to help the parties come to a settlement. And the Minsk Group is ready to facilitate. But one important condition for the success of the Minsk Group facilitation is the political will of the parties themselves. Unfortunately, so far we hear certain statements which testified that we are not there yet. I hope that the joint statement by the Presidents of the Co-Chair countries of the Minsk Group will be a game changer.
On the situation in Libya, on a Special Envoy. The situation with the appointment is locked, all Council members recognize it. The consultations continue. Yes, we hear a few names floating around, but I cannot comment on that because this or another name has not been put forward officially. But we hope we will be able to finish this saga as soon as we can.
Q.: It's a follow-up on Libya. You've got a renewal taking place soon, but you're not actually having a proper meeting on Libya. And yet the diplomacy on Libya right now is getting pretty frantic. I mean, there's talk of talks in Geneva and whatever. So why no Council meeting given things are moving very fast? And the second and hard part of my question probably for you – what action should the Council take on the latest Panel of Experts report on Libya? It details widespread allegations of breaches of the arms embargo. You've read it, I'm sure. They include Russia. It has details of Russian support for the Wagner group and annexes with lists of flights, 338 Russian flights. So your reaction, please.
A.: On the meeting on Libya there are a few efforts going on as we speak, basically. And there are some moments of hope, I would say. There are statements which provide for getting out of impasse, statements hinting at leveling the playing ground in order to move forward politically. Again, I will not call names, but you know what I mean. There are efforts by various players to put the parties at the table and there are actually meetings between the parties in various parts of the region and elsewhere.
Germany as recently as yesterday proposed to hold a meeting on Libya on 5 October as a follow-up to the Berlin conference. It's not under the auspices of the Security Council, but that goes in the same direction. We had the meeting on Libya last month with Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General Williams. The mandate’s cycle this month does not provide for it. But of course, if the situation warrants, we can always convene one. Let's see how things will develop. As I said, there are some moves that give us some light of hope.
Now, what regards the report of the expert group. We discussed it in the Council and consultations called by the Chair of the Sanctions Committee, where that chair brought up the issue to the members of the Council, citing us not agreeing to the publishing of the so-called interim report of the expert group. There are a few reasons why we refused to go along with that idea. First, it creates a precedent. There are no precedents of interim reports of expert groups.
Secondly, we challenge the conclusions of this expert group, which they derive from the open press and which are to a large extent allegations that can be easily challenged, which we were saying at many of the Security Council meetings on Libya.
Thirdly, I raised also the question of the leakage. The leaks of the reports of the Sanctions Committee's expert group are unfortunately a perennial problem in the UN. We had that in the DPRK Sanctions Committee, we had that in Libya and elsewhere. We are raising that subject constantly, asking to put a stop to this practice. And we have reasons to believe that it is not done just accidentally. It is a deliberate leakage, which is aimed at promoting certain political purposes.
Now, on the Russian presence in Libya, we've been commenting that many times over. We were saying that there are no Russian military in Libya. Whilst we know (and we said that in the Council in the open), that the countries that accuse us of the military presence have their own military presence in Libya, not just the private military companies, but the military military. We know it exactly. We know the numbers. We know where they are. We know what they are doing. But we are not in the habit of putting other military personnel in jeopardy. We are not saying that openly. We are respecting the code of conduct that should be maintained in these circumstances. Unlike our partners, who at every opportunity raise an issue of Russian military presence in Libya, Russian planes, etc., which has never been proven despite what is contained in the report.
Q.: If I may take you back to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It's been less than a week since the clashes began between the two countries, and we have already seen more than a hundred people, including civilians, killed. Russia has obviously called for an immediate stop to the fighting, as well as the Security Council. But there is also a UN General Assembly resolution which calls on Armenia for an immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal from the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. Under international law Armenian forces are the forces of occupation. I'm just wondering if Russia would make the same call in Armenia to withdraw its forces from Azerbaijan.
A.: Thank you. Look, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter of utmost concern to us, not because it is very close to our borders, but primarily because both Armenia and Azerbaijan are not countries which are strange to us. And their peoples are not strange to us. We have special relations with both countries and, of course, it is painful for us to look at what is happening.
There are no easy solutions to any of the conflicts where there is an escalation and where feelings about it on both sides are so deep. I would say that you cannot expect a complete implementation of the UN General Assembly resolution in the midst of the conflict, which is fraught with large scale military activities, with a heavy toll and heavy loss of life, with this degree of rhetoric that comes from both sides.
This conflict has been debated for many years now. And there were approaches to resolve it through the Minks Group and on the bilateral basis, which would lead to the sustainable settlement. Unfortunately, at a certain time, these proposals, which were very near to being accepted, were not accepted. And now we are having what we are having. I think that the first and foremost need today is to cease hostilities, immediately do the ceasefire and re-engage in negotiations. We offered our mediation, Minister Lavrov said that we are ready to provide Moscow as a platform for the parties to discuss it. But you cannot discuss anything, any settlement in the middle of heavy fighting. First, we have to achieve the ceasefire. That's, I think, the priority number one.
Q.: Just recently your country used a new nuclear-powered icebreaker as proof that the Arctic belongs to Russia, as part of an interest in establishing the region for Northern Passage. Could you speak on Russia and its interest in the Arctic?
A.: An unusual question, frankly. I think we never said that Arctic belongs to Russia. Arctic, first of all, belongs to the mankind. We are saying that Arctic should be an area of cooperation, not confrontation. That's our longstanding position on it. And for a long time, it has been shared by the riparian states. We do not want any military build-up or activity in the Arctic. We don't want it to become another arena of confrontation. Yes the Northern Arctic Sea Route was always part of the nature of the Russian economy, so to say. We've been using it in the Soviet times with our atomic icebreakers, even then. Now it is just a new level of icebreakers.
The Arctic is in the interests not just of Russia or other riparian states, the United States, Canada, Norway and others, but of the countries which are, if you look at the map, quite far away from the Arctic. I know that South Korea, for example, or Japan are interested in the Northern Passage because it's a shorter route compared to the regular one across Africa or through the Suez Canal. So I do not believe that we want to privatize the Arctic. I think the Arctic should be an area of mutual and fruitful cooperation for all.
Q.: My question is regarding Syria, the chemical weapons issue has been discussed recently during the Arria-formula meeting and obviously, there was a lot of discord among Security Council members and among experts regarding the reports brought up by the OPCW. How are you going to tackle this in the Security Council, given that you wanted to put an end to this saga, as you described earlier, about the chemical file?
A.: Thank you for the question. This saga, unfortunately, was not finished with the Arria-formula meeting. It will not be finished on Monday when we discuss chemical Syria. This file is a very useful tool that some of our partners and colleagues are using to corner the Syrian Government.
For a long time, we've been discussing chemical Syria behind closed doors and our position was basically not heard. And last month we offered to stop doing that behind closed doors because we have nothing to hide. On the contrary, we have a lot to discuss. During the Arria-formula meeting, by the way, a couple of delegations accused Russia of not taking part in the discussion with Director General Arias and the Chair of that illegal IIT group that took place earlier this year. I said the reason for that was that we wanted that discussion to be in the open. We wanted to ask questions to the Director General about the malpractices of the OPCW, which had already long time become the talk of the town. But they neglect all our questions to them on the malpractices that are so obvious. The organizers of the meeting prefer to hide the Director General Arias from us and from the questions which he otherwise would have to answer in front of the international community. And that was the reason why we didn't participate in that meeting.
Now the Arria-formula meeting. You said about the discord among the member states and among the briefers. There was no discord among the briefers. The briefers came up with facts. They came up with scientific analyses. That's something we are calling our partners to do for a long time. But we are being denied it, we are told there is a stamp of the FFM, a stamp of the OPCW, the most reputable, the most professional, unchallengeable organization. We are told our comments on OPCW conclusions are not needed, as those are unequivocal and indisputable conclusions that it was the Syrian Government that was responsible for the chemical attacks, wherever — Khan Shaykhun, Douma, Al Lataminah, and elsewhere.
Of course, our Western colleagues accused us of Russian propaganda. But I think they were doing their propaganda because I heard the same statements that I hear all the time when we discuss chemical Syria. That was summed up by Professor Postol, who said: “If you came here, argue with my arguments, don't tell me your position that you repeated at the Security Council. I presented you with arguments. If you have with what to challenge them, do it. But don't say that I came to you to indoctrinate you”. Unfortunately, they don't want to hear the truth. And those who don't want to hear they won't listen.
You heard Yan Henderson speak who was presented by the OPCW as some insignificant minor figure who never participated in any substantive or serious things. I think that his presentation spoke for itself. He's a serious man, a reputable scientist, a respectable specialist who has spent decades in the OPCW.
And he was very careful. He was saying: “I'm here not to criticize my fellow experts for whom I have the greatest respect”. But he named a few things which are happening today in the OPCW, which are a matter of great concern to us and to many other delegations. OPCW from a non-politicized consensual body – which is supposed to work for the prevention of the use of the chemical weapons, which is a WMD and which cannot be used anywhere by anybody under any circumstances – became a tool to implicate certain governments through the chemical file. That's what we are trying to claim. I think that the impression that was made by the experts in that regard was unequivocal.
Q.: Ambassador, thanks so much for the briefing. I just wanted to ask you about a letter sent to the Security Council by five of your colleagues, the Europeans and the UK, saying that the poisoning of Navalny is a threat to international peace and security and asking Russia to report to the Security Council on it. Could we get some comment from you on that? Thank you.
A.: I'm not a spokesman on Navalny’s case. But I think that instead of drafting letters that we saw yesterday, which they hurried to draft and to send on 30 September before the Niger Presidency expired, some of them should better cooperate with the Russian authorities. We, our Prosecutor General's Office, already sent, I think, three requests for legal assistance to Germany and one to France, to which we received no reply yet.
In fact, we hear conflicting messages on it. We are being sent to the OPCW, which was also playing a game on that, saying to us, when we approached, that it had nothing to do with it, that they did not cooperate with anybody, that nobody asked them anything. While at that time they were, in fact, already engaging with the German authorities. We are saying a simple thing. If you have facts, present them. They denied.
And that reminds us of a situation which happened in 2018 with the Skripals. The allegations that I hear from some are simply absurd. We were saying from the very beginning that we are willing to cooperate. In order to start our investigation, we need, according to our laws, to be provided with materials that would allow us to open such an investigation. As long as these materials are not provided, we only can conduct the so-called pre-investigation, which is being held.
We hear a lot of things around it today. Navalny commented that he is convinced that it's Putin who is behind this. He has no other version. I'm not even taking the question why Putin would need it. That's absurd in principle, but I would say that even the allegation of something like that, which comes not just from Navalny, but is somehow inherent in many statements that we hear on that issue, is insulting.
That is immoral even to suggest this, let alone a simple question: why Russia or the Russian authorities would need that? That's all I can answer to that question. And I would recommend my colleagues who wrote the letter: instead of telling us to brief the Security Council, first fulfill and implement what is necessary and what is incumbent on them. That is – to reply to the request of our Prosecutor General to provide information on the case.
Q.: I have a question about Russia's relationship at the moment with Turkey. You certainly work together on the Astana process on Syria, but you are now on opposing sides in both the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and in Libya. And I wonder how you would assess the state of relations. Has President Putin talked to President Erdogan or Minister Lavrov talked to his counterpart? What are you trying to do to sort of tamp down and try and reduce or end these conflicts because the relationship between your two countries is critical?
A.: Thank you. And may I correct you a little bit. You said that we are on opposing sides with Turkey on Nagorno-Karabakh. Yes, Turkey is unequivocally supporting Azerbaijan. We know that. But that doesn't mean that we are with the other side supporting Armenia vis-a-vis Azerbaijan. That's not the case. We support the just settlement. We support the ceasefire, the end of hostilities. We want both countries to stop this escalation.
That's what we are supporting. And we are trying to work on it, to which there is political proof that I was telling about earlier. We are cooperating with Turkey on many issues. Indeed, one of the most important things is our trilateral cooperation on Syria within the Astana format, which bore fruit on many aspects of the Syrian file. Look, life is not a linear thing, but a complex exercise. Of course, we have to realize that various countries have various interests.
Some of these interests may not coincide. But the issue of the art of diplomacy and the art of political relations is to find such combinations and such compromises that would marry the “unmarriable” and the merge the differences, and then find such compromises that would be beneficial for the situation on the ground both here and there. We are working with Turkey on Syria. We are working with Turkey on Libya. We are in discussions with them on that issue for the sake of settlement, of halting and non-renewal of military activities in that country in the first place. It would be a prerequisite to finding a political solution for the benefit of all Libyans, which, as we said in the beginning, had some sort of a start in recent weeks.
Yes, indeed, President Putin talks regularly to President Erdogan and Minister Lavrov talks all the time to Minister Çavuşoğlu. We are saying openly that we think “internationalizing” the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will not help, but will only escalate the situation. We are calling upon all parties to show maximum restraint and work for the de-escalation.
Q.: Ambassador, Dr. Kee Park, neurosurgeon, who's the director of the Korea Project at Harvard University, has offered to address the Security Council on the horrific consequences to the civilians in North Korea of the sanctions. It would be very interesting for members of the Security Council who are advocating the sanctions against North Korea to see the horrific human consequences of this.
What are the chances of Dr. Park, who is a very distinguished neurosurgeon (done a lot of work in North Korea, is director of Harvard's Korea project), being invited to address the Security Council so they could hear directly what the consequences of the very self-righteous sanctions are?
A.: We have been raising that issue for a long time. We've been calling on the Chair of the Sanctions Committee on the DPRK to hold a briefing, initially by OCHA, on the humanitarian consequences of sanctions. For various reasons – one or another – this was postponed. So we have a debt that we want to be repaid. I hope we will be able to organize such a briefing for the members of the Security Council shortly. We will be working on that.
Whether we are able to invite this or another individual, who is not a member of the expert committee or part of the UN Secretariat, to brief us on that particular issue – that's a question. I also was approached by one scientist who is not a stranger to this problem, but is very familiar with it, and who cannot be suspected to be biased in any way. He is just saying that the situation is appalling and indeed it is so.
We always have been saying that we have to separate the political part from the humanitarian one and from the humane one as well. I will approach the Chair of the Sanctions Committee telling him that there is a reputed neurosurgeon who would like to speak or at least present his views on the humanitarian situation and humanitarian effect of the sanctions on DPRK. In what form it will be done, if at all, I will tell you later. Provide me with his coordinates and I will try to connect them.
The humanitarian consequences of sanctions is not an issue just of the DPRK. We are raising that issue in relation to many conflicts that we are discussing, saying that it adds a tremendous amount of toll on the general population, in particular in Syria, with all these recent acts that have been adopted. To that our partners are trying to convince us that the sanctions are very targeted, very fine, aimed exactly at the violators and the individuals, not at the Syrian people that will not in any way be affected.
But that is disproved by the facts and by the humanitarian actors that are working in Syria, including Western NGOs. They are saying that they themselves are victims of those sanctions because of their secondary effects. Many humanitarian providers are refusing to work with them and on the territory of Syria because of the fear of retaliation by the sanction watchdogs in the Western countries that introduced them.
So that's a generic issue, in fact. And this is an issue which is being more often raised in the Council. Not just by the countries affected by these sanctions, but by the countries who believe that this is unacceptable. As you remember, the Secretary-General, in his initial call for the global ceasefire called for the lifting of the unilateral sanctions. It was reflected in the UNSC resolution on the ceasefire, where we recognized the call of the Secretary-General.
Recently, the General Assembly adopted the so-called omnibus resolution on COVID-19. A paragraph from the 2030 Agenda on the adverse effect of the unilateral sanction measures became (by voting, but by the majority of the UN Member-States) a part of that resolution. This is an issue which should be addressed and we're addressing it all the time.
Q.: My question is on your event on the Persian Gulf. What outcome do you expect, if any? Are you planning on discussing further snapback or the JCPOA? Thank you.
A.: Thank you for the question. No, no, outcome is envisaged. The reason for that is very simple. We know how diverging the views are. To claim or hope for any outcome is not the aim of the whole exercise. The exercise is to discuss in a frank manner – without cornering, pointing fingers, exposing anyone – what can we do to alleviate tensions and go to the de-escalation?
You know that Iran is a usual suspect for many, including in the region. Everybody is pointing fingers at the “malign” Iran behavior. You know that the US is exercising the “policy of maximum pressure” on Iran. Somehow, what is being neglected and forgotten is that Iran also has its security concerns, which are often ignored.
Iran has its own concerns. Saudi Arabia has its own concerns. Other Gulf countries have their concerns. The greater Middle East have their concerns. The question is – how to ensure such an architecture in the region that would guarantee regional security? How to guarantee no need for the arms build-up by any country, the kind of the OSCE-type process in the region and the instruments that would ensure such security?
These instruments can be copied from the agreements that have been reached a long time ago, including the Soviet-American agreements on non-use of force, on prevention of accidents, etc. There is plenty, a list of those agreements that could be useful if applied in the context of the Persian Gulf situation.
On the snapback, I think, everything is clear. The snapback has not happened. The Council spoke about it unequivocally. Nearly all Council members sent letters to the President of the Council in August. There they stated their position on the so-called snapback, said that they do not share that and believe that resolution 2231 stays intact. That was confirmed in the Presidential résumé of the discussion in the end of August during the Indonesian Presidency. It was also later confirmed by the Nigerian Presidency. After the so-called snapback grace period of 30 days expired on 19 September and the US announced that the snapback now was enforced, the same countries confirmed their position, sending letters to the Security Council President and to the Secretary-General, saying that in their view the “snapback” was the American wishful thinking.
So we live in a situation of no-snapback, of full implementation of resolution 2231. I understand that the US themselves understand it. They simply use that situation in order to go with their own unilateral sanctions to impose on Iran and continue their “policy of maximum pressure”.
Q.: Thank you, Ambassador. I actually have a short follow-up on the Council's PoW. You mentioned that there will be VTC debate because some high-level speakers can join. Can we expect some HL speakers from Russia like Minister Lavrov? On the meeting on chemical weapons: last time it turned out to be more about Navalny than Syria. Do you expect it to happen again, especially as it's an open meeting?
A.: On the high-level participation, there is uncertainty about HL or any participation of the delegates coming from their countries. You know that New York maintains this two-week quarantine. Of course, it limits the possibilities for meaningful participation, especially at the high level. If we proceed from the fact that HL visitors are not exempted and have to stay here for two weeks before they can go to a meeting, I think it's unrealistic to believe that any of them would be willing to come.
Although if that quarantine was lifted, I would easily allow for Minister Lavrov to come in person, say, for a meeting on 20 October. We would welcome such an opportunity. I am always happy to see Minister Lavrov here. Whether it's realistic is a big question now.
That is why we have to organize our meetings with high-level participation via VTC. It is the easiest way and that's the format that we ourselves envisaged when we negotiated the way how we will operate in the Council during this lockdown months and during the many-month period when VTCs was the only option for us.
That does not provide for the statement from the screen in the Council. That was the rules that we adopted for ourselves. I think we should follow them as we agreed.
I don't think that during the last CW session we had a discussion on Navalny rather than chemical Syria. Yes, a few countries raised that subject. Well, I cannot, you know, cut off their microphones if they raise it again at a chemical Syria meeting. That's their right. Although I don't see the link between Syria’s chemical file and Navalny’s case. But in chemical Syria, we're planning to discuss chemical Syria.
Q.: A short follow-up. Sorry, I understand that it would be difficult to come to New York in person. I meant if Minister Lavrov could join the meeting via VTC.
A.: I hope so. I think he will deliver a much more powerful statement than any that I can do.
Q.: Thank you, Ambassador. I want to ask about Iraq. There are major developments right now in Iraq due to the intensification of attacks by the militias against the US targets in Iraq. Now the United States says we will close our Embassy in Baghdad. The Iraqi Government's fear of this move means the decrease or the end of the US or coalition forces that are essential to fight ISIS in Iraq.
Do you think withdrawal of the US forces or decrease of the role of the coalition in Iraq is a positive move? Do you agree with your Iranian colleagues when they say the US and coalition should leave Iraq? Their role is over. The fight against ISIS is pretty much done.
Q.: To decide whether US troops should remain in Iraq or should withdraw is not for me, it's for the Iraqi Government first of all. If the Iraqi Government decides that the US troops should leave, I think they should leave. That's the way how things normally go in international relations.
Whether the Iraqi Government is interested in US troops’ leaving – that's another question. How it will affect the fight with ISIS is also a big question.
The situation in Iraq differs from the situation in Syria, a nearby country, where we also have the presence of US troops, which came there without consulting the Syrian Government, to put it mildly, and which are stated on the Syrian soil illegally. Let's be frank about it. We do not shy away from saying that openly. We are saying openly that the US troops should leave Syria – the sooner the better. It will only facilitate the Syrian reconciliation. Americans may think otherwise, that's their right. But we think that leaving Syria by the American troops will be positive for the Syrian settlement, not negative.
Q.: Just to follow up on that, Ambassador. You said the decision is for Iraqi Government, but aren't you concerned that a potential withdrawal of the coalition could strengthen ISIS in the region? What is Russia's view on this?
A.: We know that ISIS has been largely destroyed, but not completely. There are many sleeping cells around. Besides, it has been destroyed physically, but has not been destroyed mentally. In what way may it reappear? That's a big question.
Of course, it is a concern to us. To what extent the presence of US troops in Iraq is absolutely indispensable and instrumental in fighting ISIS? I cannot say that, I am not an expert on this. But, of course, the issue of ISIS revival both in Iraq and Syria is a matter of concern, including for the Iraqi authorities, but Iraqi authorities are the masters of their own country. They should assess the risks, take informed decisions, be fully aware that if foreign troops (that were invited to stay on certain terms and conditions) are leaving – then they will have to take that fight on their own and make sure that this fight is successful.
Of course, we do not want the resurgence of ISIL anywhere, including in Iraq, which deserves to be given an opportunity to develop peacefully. Iraq has been progressing recently. It came out of a terrible situation after 2003 and has established good neighborly relations with the countries around it. It maintains this policy of no enemies around – only friends. We are a friend of Iraq, we have good relations with that country. We wish it all the best, and wish to overcome whatever difficulties they are experiencing.
Q.: Thank you, Ambassador, for doing this. My question is about Lebanon and Syria and Israel. It's one interconnected question. Given the hard situation in Lebanon, does Russia support now the withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters from Syria? Does Russia support that agreement between Lebanon and Israel to do that demarcation for the maritime and the land border?
There were also signals from Syria that they are willing to have peace talks now with Israel. Please let us know in your national capacity, what do you think about those issues and whether any of those issues are going to be discussed in the Security Council?
A.: Whoever is present in Syria, it's a matter between those who are present and the Syrian Government. We were not inviting anyone to Syria. It is not our business, we were invited ourselves and we can speak for ourselves only. What the Syrian Government decides on the presence of other parties that it invited to Syria to help fight international terrorism – that's the sovereign right of the Syrian Government. It is simply not appropriate for me to comment on how I treat a potential withdrawal of certain contingents from Syria anywhere.
Those who were invited to help Syria fight ISIL made a big contribution to that. Out of countries that were officially and legally invited – Russia and Iran. That's no secret. We are there on the request of the Syrian Government, which makes our presence there legal. It was necessary. I will not be citing what we did in Syria since 2015, but we were instrumental very much in breaking the bone of ISIL, so was Iran, by the way, and of course, the Syrian Arab Army.
Now we would welcome any mutually acceptable agreement reached between Lebanon and Israel on demarcation, provided that both sides agreed to it.
On the willingness of Syria for talks with Israel, frankly, I didn't hear anything and I cannot comment on it. I need to know the sources and what we are talking about. I haven't heard about it and it's difficult for me to comment on it. What kind of talks? Talks on what issues? It is very unclear to me as of yet.
We are discussing issues in the triangle, one way or the other, practically at every meeting on Syria and when we discuss Lebanon. Lebanon is a special issue today after what happened there recently – that terrible explosion that made such a blow on a country which already suffered from many crises. And it continues to be in a political crisis that we want them to be out of as soon as possible.
We understand what difficulties they are facing today. The Lebanese society, as you know better than me, is a very complex one. It is multifaceted, and you cannot solve Lebanese problems by appointing one party at the expense of the others. Lebanon is always a balance of interests of all factions that exist there. The whole country is an example of a very delicate balance of how the political system works. That's a beautiful and great country. But you have to take into account all political voices there and not try to exclude a political force, that is part of the Lebanese political landscape, from the country's political life.
Q.: Are you mentioning here Macron’s initiative, Ambassador? Can you clarify, please?
A.: No, I was not referring to Macron’s initiative. I was saying that politically Lebanon is in a very difficult situation, a turmoil, with the devastation that occurred in the port and with the socio-economic effects on the country, which I wish them to overcome the sooner the better.
Q.: I want to ask first about the Quartet [of international mediators for the Middle East]. Russia is a member of the Quartet. The Quartet is almost sleeping for the last four years. The last comprehensive statement it issued was in 2016. Why does not Russia activate the Quartet and see what they can do about the question of Palestine? Why is Russia playing just a secondary role in the Quartet and wait for the Americans? If they agree to meet, they do meet. If they don't, then there is no meeting. So can’t Russia play a more proactive role in this field?
My second question, there are four resolutions of 1993 regarding Nagorno-Karabakh: 822, 853, 874, 884. They clearly ask Armenian forces to withdraw from land they occupied in Azerbaijan. Are these Security Council resolutions still valid? Should the international community abide by what these resolutions spelled out?
A.: On the Quartet, thank you for the encouragement. In fact, we are forcefully trying to return the Quartet back into the game. In particular, for your information, we were proposing to hold a Quartet ministerial level meeting during the High-Level Week.
I spoke to the Secretary-General, who was also keenly interested. That was not possible for reasons which are obvious to you, I think. We are saying that the Quartet is a mechanism that proved its efficiency in the past and should be used now when we are in dire straits on the Palestinian-Israeli settlement.
The dialogue in the Quartet may need to be supplemented by the participation of certain countries of the League of Arab States, we are willing to consider this. We are ready to engage them in that dialogue.
Unilateral solutions will not solve the issue. We hear all the time that we live in a new world and new circumstances, that we should abandon the outdated paradigms that do not work, as well as UNGA and UNSC resolutions that we adopted long time – all that we believe constitutes the international parameters of the just settlement.
To that I was recently saying that if this is the case, how about a resolution of the UN General Assembly that created the state of Israel? It is also part of that paradigm, shall we forget about it either? We and the majority of the international community stand unequivocally beside the agreed international basis for the Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which includes the Madrid principles and the Arab initiative, and the capital, and the two-state solution.
We encourage our Palestinian friends to go into direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions. We are saying, like others, that we will accept everything that will be negotiated by them directly, whatever will be acceptable to both of them. But we do not accept the proposed solutions that are acceptable only to one side, clearly unacceptable to the other, but still are promoted as a way forward.
We are trying to help reconcile the Palestinian factions. We saw some positive moves recently on that road. I think we've already announced that we would like to see both the main Palestinian factions in Moscow for another round of talks.
Coming back to the Quartet. As recently as on 29 September, the Quartet held a meeting with N.Mladenov presiding and Foreign Ministry representatives of the Quartet participating. There participated Vladimir Safronkov, who is now a representative of the Russian Foreign Minister on the Middle Eastern settlement, there was, I think, Susanna Terstal from the EU, Nickolay Mladenov himself, and Avi Berkowitz from the office of Jared Kushner.
So the Quartet is alive. No fanfares about it yet, but we are trying to engage it forcefully and as much as we can. It can play an effective role, in particular in the current circumstances.
What was the next one? I think I answered that question already. There are resolutions, but do the warring parties always remember resolutions in the midst of hostilities? The resolutions were adopted in 1993. Many things happened since then. There were proposals where we were very close to finding a solution. It is only a great regret that we could not achieve it then. I cannot give you an answer to the question from where we will go in these circumstances. But before we think about it, the most important thing is to cease hostilities.
Q.: Again, on Lebanon, on the framework agreement for Israeli-Lebanese maritime discussions. It's a historic agreement between the two parties. What is the Russian connection to this particular agreement? Do you think it's time to hope for a future peace between the two countries, Lebanon and Israel? And also, can we have more details on the resolution on Lebanon that will be discussed at the end of this month?
A.: Thank you. We will provide the details of the resolution later. There is a country – a penholder of that dossier. I think it would be more appropriate if they could comment on the resolution, which will come later in the month.
Regarding the agreement between Lebanon and Israel, I can say that we are glad that it took place. It's not a comprehensive agreement, but this is already something, and that is good. We wholeheartedly stand for the improvement of relations in the region, including the relations between Israel and the Arab countries.
The question is, it's not related to Lebanon in particular. But still, the question is that this rapprochement, these agreements that we witnessed should not come at the expense of the Palestinians, which is an issue raised by the Palestinians themselves. Of course, there are certain winners in these circumstances. But Palestinians should not become losers in this game.
Q: I have a question regarding the proposal made by President Putin last week. He offered the Russian vaccine for free to UN staff. I wonder if you had any feedback from the Secretariat or if you have been approached by any missions on that?
Besides, a little follow-up on Nagorno-Karabakh, if I may. There are several reports stating that Turkey is sending mercenaries to the conflict zone. Does Russia have any confirmation of this data?
A: On your first question, “for free” is not the key word here. I think that the key word is that the President of Russia has proposed the vaccine. Yes, he did. It is a kind of humanitarian contribution of Russia to the UN. That idea was positively accepted by the Secretariat.
It was one of the issues that we have discussed with the Secretary-General. He will appoint the focal point in the Secretariat to discuss the whole range of issues around it, because it's, of course, not that simple like: we bring it here, vaccinate everybody and go home. There are various things around it: legal, procedural, medical, logistical, etc., which have to be discussed. We've been approached, we talked, we've been instructed from Moscow to continue. We reported the feedback from the UN with the list of questions that followed after our conversation with the Secretariat.
We have an idea (it's a preannouncement) that maybe we could organize a presentation of the Russian vaccine here in the UN by those who developed it. They can brief UN membership and, of course, the media on the clinical trials, which are going at full strength now in Russia, the results, the effects and on any side effects or any problems that may occur. By the way, so far they're saying they've got no problems. I'm not advertising here, but I'm just telling you what I hear.
On the mercenaries, it was commented today by Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova. Indeed, we have information about the presence of mercenaries coming from Syria in the zone of conflict. That is what I know from the reports of the Russian MFA, as well as from the reports in the media, including the French, which are saying the same thing. It is not a very welcome development, I would put it that way. It doesn't help to achieve what we are trying to reach most at the moment – the ceasefire and the end of hostilities.
Thank you very much, I appreciate your braveness, that you are here in person and I also would like to thank all those who joined us today via VTC. I will be there with you more often now, since I will be in the Council quite often, hopefully starting on 8 October. And if you are around, I will try to resume our regular stakeouts that we used to have when everything was normal.