God afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
We have completed the fourth round of talks between the foreign and defence ministers of Russia and Egypt in the two-plus-two format.
This format is unique for Russia’s relations with Arab countries and is evidence of the special relations between Russia and Egypt. Over the past few years, our bilateral relations have advanced to the level of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.
We discussed the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. We pointed out that our views on the nature and scale of regional challenges and ways to overcome them largely coincide. We agree that peace and security in this region can only be ensured on the basis of the UN Charter as well as respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries in the region, without any interference in their internal affairs.
We highlighted the need to consolidate international efforts so as to effectively combat the threat of terrorism. Both Moscow and Cairo believe that these efforts must be taken on the solid basis of international law.
We confirmed our high assessment of Egypt’s recent contribution as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council to the proposal and adoption of important decisions to cut short arms deliveries to terrorists and to fight the terrorist ideology.
We held in-depth discussions on the situation in Syria. We agree with our Egyptian friends that there is no military solution to this conflict. It can be settled exclusively politically, through an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and based on the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which was held in Sochi on January 30. We also confirmed our mutual resolve to closely coordinate our actions regarding Syria.
We held a constructive and trust-based exchange of opinions on other crises in the vast Middle Eastern region, in particular in Libya, where Egypt and Libya’s other neighbours – Algeria and Tunisia – are contributing to the search for mutually acceptable solutions that would allow Libyans themselves to determine their country’s future through national dialogue.
We also talked about Yemen and the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme in light of the negative consequences for the region, as we see it, created by the United States’ decision to withdraw from this deal.
Our colleagues, the defence ministers Sergey Shoigu and Sedki Sobhi, discussed military and technical cooperation.
I would like to say that we also discussed the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We confirmed our commitment to the UN Security Council and General Assembly decisions and the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative. Both Egypt and Russia are concerned about the attempts to revise these crucial documents and approaches, which have been approved by the international community. Russia appreciates Egypt’s constructive role in the efforts to restore Palestinian unity and the assistance it is providing to the main Palestinian groups in order to mend their split. We expressed our shared concern over the situation in the Palestinian territories, in particular the Gaza Strip.
We also confirmed our resolve to coordinate our approaches to the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. A decision to this effect was adopted back in 1995. We are convinced that now is the time to redouble our efforts towards this goal and to overcome the obstacles and artificial barriers which some of our partners are trying to erect in our path.
During the bilateral talks, the foreign ministers discussed the implementation of the agreements that were reached during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Cairo in December 2017. We also talked about the implementation of decisions on the large strategic projects that are expected to give new meaning to bilateral trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation. I am referring primarily to the construction of the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant. We are working energetically now to prepare a site for this project.
We indicated our willingness to sign an intergovernmental agreement on the creation of a Russian industry zone in Egypt. We hope this agreement will take its final form in the next few weeks.
We agreed to provide positive diplomatic support to the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, which will hold a regular session this month.
This autumn, talks between the Eurasian Economic Union and Egypt to prepare a free trade area agreement will take place. It will be a major step towards deepening relations between Russia and Egypt and between the other EAEU member states and Egypt.
We also discussed direct flights. We agree that the resumption of direct flights between Moscow and Cairo has become possible thanks to cooperative and efficient work to provide the necessary security standards. Our current level of interaction in this sphere offers a solid basis for the eventual resumption of the Russian airlines’ flights to the Egyptian resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh. We agreed to help strengthen coordination between our law enforcement agencies so as to preclude a repetition of tragedies such as the crash of a Russian airliner over the Sinai in October 2015.
Overall, we are deeply satisfied with the results of our talks. They have confirmed the need for meeting regularly in this format, which is designed to strengthen Russian-Egyptian cooperation for security and stability in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as around the world as a whole.
Question (via interpreter): Did you discuss the possibility of deploying Arab, including Egyptian, troops in Syria to reinforce the peace process there?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Sameh Shoukry): As my colleague and friend has said, we talked about this subject in the context of discussions on the situation in Syria and the actions of the so-called external players, including the United States. The idea you mentioned, that is, to encourage Arab countries to deploy their troops in Syria, belongs to them. This was done with a twofold purpose: first, to share responsibility for the direct and flagrant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, which has not invited the United States or any other members of the US-led coalition to its territory, and second, to share the financial burden of the campaign, as US officials have said openly. Everyone knows the reasons for this encouragement. We appreciate Egypt’s position on this issue.
Question: The US embassy opened in Jerusalem today. Many countries have announced a desire to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem as well. Cairo and Moscow have issued a joint protest in this connection. Are Russia and Egypt planning to take joint measures to limit the consequences of this [US] move?
Sergey Lavrov: We have publicly offered our negative views on this decision many times. President Putin spoke about this. We are convinced that agreements approved by the international community must not be revised unilaterally in this manner. These agreements say that all aspects of the final Palestinian-Israeli settlement – and the status of Jerusalem is one of the most important aspects – should be settled exclusively through a direct dialogue between the leaders of Israel and Palestine. As you know, Russia has offered its services and territory many times to help launch this dialogue. Our offer remains. During our meetings with Israeli leaders we have invariably confirmed our views on compliance with all the arrangements regarding the procedure of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, including the status of Jerusalem.
Question: A new round of talks has begun in Astana today. It is the first round following the Western airstrikes on Syria. Will these events influence the Astana talks and a peaceful settlement in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, the ninth round of the International Meeting on Syria involving the three guarantor countries – Russia, Iran and Turkey – as well as observers from Jordan and, most importantly, delegations from the Syrian government and the opposition began in Astana today. Those present there will discuss practical solutions to certain humanitarian problems. They will certainly discuss a political process, which we want to launch as soon as possible. The conditions for this are available, including those that have been formulated in the comprehensive declaration of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which has been approved by the UN Secretary-General and his Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
Regrettably, when this [political] dialogue was taking practical shape, the United States, Britain and France launched an aggressive action under the far-fetched pretext of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. This happened less than a day before OPCW inspectors were expected to arrive at the site of the alleged chemical attack. Since then, we have exposed the fraud of the incident that allegedly took place in Douma on April 7, including by inviting witnesses to a briefing in The Hague, contrary to our colleagues’ clumsy attempts to justify their illegal action. Of course, this was a blow not only at the Syrian territory but also at the progress we have made towards a political settlement in the Syrian crisis based on the achievements of the Astana process and the Congress in Sochi.
We will continue to demand compliance with the agreements reached within the framework of UNSC Resolution 2254. It is within this framework that the three guarantor countries of the Astana process are acting and the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress were formulated. We will demand respect for these documents.
Question (via interpreter, addressed to Sameh Shoukry): What is Egypt’s position regarding the recent violence in the Golan Heights and the bombing of Syria?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Sameh Shoukry): I fully support everything my colleague has said. All external players without exception must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and avoid any provocation that can undermine the significant effort that is being taken to launch an intra-Syrian dialogue.