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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov interview with the Financial Times, 25 March 2009

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Interview to the British Newspaper "Financial Times", March 25, 2009

Question: I know you've addressed in great detail the issue of US/Russian relations, but could you just in a minute tell us, is there a reason for hope now that relations between the United States and Russia will improve, and if so, why?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Well, there is always a place for hope, and certainly, when we hear signals from Washington that they want to "reset" our relations, meaning that they want constructive engagement and cooperation and partnership on so many issues which we really can usefully cooperate on, we welcome this. And we sense this not only in statements from Washington, but also in the exchange of messages between President Medvedev and President Obama, and also, during my first encounter with Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton in Geneva, and we are getting ready for the first face to face meeting of our two presidents in London on 1st April.

As with Secretary Clinton, we will try to set the agenda of that meeting in a way which would allow the two presidents to give instructions to their respective teams on how to proceed with priority issues, be it strategic plans, negotiations, be it counter-terrorism, non-proliferation. Of course, speaking of strategic stability, we also took very good note of the decision of the administration to take a look into the missile defence situation. But practically on any problematic issue which we inherited from the past eight years, I understand the Obama administration is undertaking a review which we welcome.

A second opinion never hurts, not only in medicine, but also in politics. And we would like to translate those signals which both Washington and Moscow have been sending into practical work. Hopefully, this will be the outcome of the London meeting.

Question: One area of disagreement in the past has been the nature of Russia's relations with its immediate neighbours. How do you think the tensions in this area can be reduced?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Well, we don't want any disagreements in this or any other area. We naturally have a very long history of relations with these countries and these peoples. We have during centuries enriched each other in so many ways; culturally, economically, demographically I would say. And so many links exist at the moment, including from the once common economic system, infrastructure system, which is very much in place and not to use the advantages of which would be really not very smart. And down to family relations, there are so many mixed marriages and families who are composed of different nationalities who used to live in the Soviet Union and then they found themselves overnight living in a different country.

Of course, this doesn't mean that their family relations stopped. So all this explains why we certainly believe that our relations with these countries could be described as privileged relations. The word that frightened so many people, but which reflects only that it is a privileged partnership. We have special interests going deep into centuries in these countries, and they have the same deep interests in the Russian Federation, economically from the point of view of humanitarian needs of the population. Then there are links across millions of migrant workers work in Russia from these republics. So there should be no misunderstanding of what is going on in this space.

We certainly understand the legitimate interests of non regional players; Central Asia, in the Caucasus, those are places where hydrocarbons are produced, where hydrocarbons are being transported. Those are areas which are very crucial for effective fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime. So all these are very legitimate interests, because the consequences are felt well beyond this territory, in Europe and in the United States.

What we want is that these legitimate interests can be promoted openly, with full respect of the interests of all countries in this region, first of all the countries in question, and we believe it's very dangerous to try to put these countries in front of a dilemma; either with us or you're against us. And there have been attempts in the past to do exactly that, basically telling them either you want to be a friend of the Russian Federation, or you want to be a friend of us, and there is no middle way. I think it's an old thinking, as it were, and we should really concentrate on common challenges and common opportunities existing in this area, fully respecting the position of the countries themselves, and not creating any dividing lines there. And I believe if this is the situation, we're not going to have any friction with the United States or with the European Union, or with anyone else in cooperating together with the countries of the region on so many important things.

Question: And for this to happen, NATO must not enlarge into this region?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: NATO enlargement is certainly something which we try to understand. What is being achieved by this? With the latest expansion of NATO, do people in Europe feel more secure? Why this drive to mark geo-political space which some people believed became vacant? It's again, it's moving the dividing lines which we all agreed should be eliminated. It's keeping those dividing lines and moving them further to the east and any other direction, but to the east it's certainly what is important for us. And the purpose of this is not clear at all.

If NATO says that NATO wants to become a modern security organisation addressing security challenges globally, then there are plenty of ways to cooperate with anyone in so many existing formats. NATO has a special relationship with countries far away from Europe; Australia, Japan, South Korea. They have joint projects and programmes which are being implemented without these countries becoming members of NATO. By the same token, Russia has partnership framework with NATO, Russia- NATO Council, and we have so many useful things on the agenda.

If you take a look at the annual list of joint projects between Russia and NATO, it contains dozens of items and issues, starting from compatibility of peacekeeping forces and peacekeeping approaches and concepts down to safety of air traffic. Counter-terrorism is a huge problem in itself. So many other things; non-proliferation, of course. Afghanistan. Indeed, it's a whole lot of very important and very real things. And the same could be done and is being done between NATO and other countries in the post Soviet space who have their own special structures with Nato. But when we are told that Ukraine and Georgia will be members of NATO, as was said at the last April summit in Bucharest, we... and then we also explained that, of course, this was said because this is the will of the peoples, and we know that in the Ukraine, public opinion polls indicate very different opinion of the people. And we also know that this message from Bucharest that Georgia will be a member of NATO was indirect encouragement for Mr. Saakashvili to do what he did. So if NATO wants to expand at any cost in spite of the view of the people, or if NATO is ready to embrace a country whose current regime did not hesitate to use brutal force against civilians killing hundreds of them, then we again have questions about what is the reason for NATO expansion.

So I believe that we first have to understand what NATO is about as far as Russia is concerned. We want to understand what NATO is about, what organisation it is evolving into. We hear about the work on new strategic concept or doctrine, and we hear about some ideas being put into this process. And we certainly notice quite a number of additional scenarios for NATO to use force globally, not necessarily with going to the Security Council for endorsement. Of course, this concerns us, because it's already not about NATO or NATO expansion, it's about international law which we want to strengthen, not to dilute. Hopefully, when we resume our dialogue with NATO in the form of Russia- NATO Council, which unfortunately could not meet at our request during the crisis in the Caucasus, one or two delegations blocked the meeting, though the Council was created among other things to consider crisis situations, but hopefully when we resume this work, we will have an occasion not just to exchange political statements, but to sit down together and to try to discuss all these things; military doctrines, what are the strategic thinkings on both sides; whether we still want to fight common threats and challenges together and try to use existing opportunities, or something else is being contemplated.

I hope that the answer is yes to the first option and that we would come back to the basics which were reflected in the Rome declaration when the Russia-NATO Council was created, and which is indivisibility of security that no country should take steps to strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others. And also, hopefully, that Russia- NATO Council, as was stated by the heads of state and governments in Rome, is not a 26 plus one structure, but rather 27 each country participating in its national capacity so that to avoid any block instincts. It's easier said than done, but that's what was agreed at the creation of the Russia- NATO Council.

Question: Is there going to be any attempt to further define what President Medvedev said at the end of August about region of privileged interest? Either what countries belong in that region, or what rights does that give Russia that other countries don't have in that region, for instance, security priority and things like that...

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I've already said that it's mutually privileged relations, and certainly countries who are our neighbours we consider as countries with whom we do have privileged relations, just like they have privileged relations with us, which is reflected in so many ways. For example, during the time of this particular financial crisis, CIS created a new mechanism, regular meetings of ministers of finance to exchange assessments and to try to see how we can cooperate in addition to huge economic relations which we have. The Eurasian Economic Community created an emergency fund of $10 billion specifically designed to help each other at the time of this crisis. And it's not only our neighbours, it's also countries in other regions of the world with whom we have had relations for decades and even centuries; with some Latin American countries, Russia established diplomatic relations almost 200 years ago, 150 years ago. We have had a longstanding tradition of cooperation with the Africans since the time of their national liberation, training in the Soviet Union and in Russia dozens of thousands of citizens of Africa, Asia, Latin America. They're still there. They have their associations and they still have the pillars of their national economy built with the assistance of Moscow, and to ignore this would be really irresponsible.

By the way, firstly, the term itself, privileged relations, was used to describe the relations between Moscow and Paris, still in the Soviet times, and then no one really raised an eyebrow. So no, it's not countries who have any monopoly on everything. As I said, we fully respect the legitimate interests of any other country. We develop relations with all those who we believe we have privileged relations with, provided we play honestly, provided we... yes, competition is the rule of today in today's world.

Completion will always be there, competition and economy, competition in various ways of life. That's what this dialogue of civilisation and the alliance of civilisations is about. But we have to do so with mutual respect, without being thrown into the inertia of zero sum games. It's not easy. We all come from a certain historical period, but hopefully, this inertia will be overcome and we will realise that it's much more productive and much more in the interests of everyone to cooperate honestly, without any hidden agendas. The time of this crisis clearly showed that when something wrong happens to everyone, people are much more ready to concentrate on real problems, not invent artificial ones. And if we manage to do something together, then hopefully this trend might continue into national political relations as well.

Question: Does your point about competition also extend to pipelines? Is it okay and perfectly acceptable for Europe to build Nabucco, for example?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Absolutely. President Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin repeatedly stated and reiterated this again that we have nothing against Nabucco. We are not roving various capitals and telling them don't even think of Nabucco, though some of our competitors do exactly the same vis-a-vis northern stream and southern stream. We know this. Hardly anything could be hidden these days. As far as Nabucco is concerned, it's exactly about the competition. What do you need for competition? Economic feasibility, financial feasibility on the product itself. If Nabucco gets all this, and this is profitable, acceptable to those who I invite to participate in this project, why should we be against it? Why should we work against it?

Question: And what about military bases. There seems to be an impression that Russia wants to be consulted on if any foreign powers want to establish or keep military bases in the region.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I just want to have the relationship, with NATO in particular, with conviction that whatever we agree is being implemented. I wouldn't even go into the history of the last days of the Soviet Union, the withdrawal from Europe, and what promises were given at that time, because those were oral promises and our leaders of that time strongly believe that, like in ancient Russia, a word given is better than any treaty. So I wouldn't go into this history, but Russia- NATO Council founding documents, they agree with... stipulate several very important things, and heads of state put their signatures under this statement. One of them I mentioned: no country should ensure its security at the expense of the security of others. And they even went further to elaborate a bit on what this principle means, including agreement that there would be no deployment of substantial combat forces on the territory of new NATO members.

So when military bases, or American military bases were put into Bulgaria and Romania, we have been raising, invoking this provision of Russia- NATO Council, trying to understand what's the need for this bases and how this would fit into this commitment. And we were told that those basis would not represent substantial combat forces. Then you ask the question, what would represent substantial combat forces? What is the size of such a unit which would be really covered by this Russia- NATO Council understanding, but this was several years ago.

We're still trying to have some kind of agreement on the size of such a unit. So no, we don't have any veto in countries inviting foreign military to be present on their territory, it's that we want to establish some rules, because some actions undertaken by NATO members we believe are creating unnecessary risks for overall stability, which we all agreed should not be undermined unilaterally.

Question: Georgia is a particular case of a country with tensions. Are you at all worried that there might be another outbreak of violence perhaps this year once the snows go and the summer comes along?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Yes, I am worried, because when we managed to stop the attack on Tskhinvali and other settlements, human settlements on the territory of South Ossetia, when the war was stopped, we heard statements from Tbilisi to the effect that the war is not over, that the Georgian army would rebuild itself. Then we had statements from various western capitals saying that they would help restore the Georgian army. And then the comments coming from Tbilisi during the work on what is known as the Medvedev- Sarkozy plan really gave rise to concern.

So what we want now is to ensure full implementation of those arrangements which President Medvedev and President Sarkozy reached and which were lately endorsed by the European Union, namely that the European Union undertook upon itself [unclear] non-use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, exactly what we wanted to achieve during last three years, but Georgian president was reluctant to do so. He even said once in an interview that he would never use force because he knows what blood means in the Caucuses. And then he continued to say that blood means not even decades but centuries.

He's a Caucasian, he's Georgian. He I hope knows what he is talking about. But the provisions of Medvedev- Sarkozy arrangements cover not only EU acting as a guarantor of non-use of force, it also covers the EU role as monitors in the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We regularly talk to representatives of European Union, both from Brussels and those who work on the ground. And we exchange information with them, providing some facts which become known to us, and which indicate that unlike Georgian commitments to keep their army at the areas of its dominant location, there are some military activities by Georgian special forces, interior troops, very close to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

So hopefully, the mechanism which was created at the Geneva discussions and regular meetings on the border, as agreed in Geneva, to prevent incidents, hopefully, this mechanism will work and will indeed prevent incidents and prevent certainly the occurrence, or prevent the repetition of what we witnessed. But yes, we cannot trust President Saakashvili's regime. They repeatedly violated their obligations. By the way, he started the first war, his first war, because before him, there were several leaders who started the war against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but his first war against South Ossetia took place in August 2004, but then he was not armed enough and it was stopped very quickly and with few casualties. But since then, he has been armed beyond any reasonable defence needs and you know how he used these arms.

So because of all this, we decided that the only way to guarantee security and the very survival of South Ossetia and Abkhazians would be to recognise them at their request and to place our own military forces on their territory at their request. So this should be a very serious deterrent for anyone who would like to try to do this again. But we certainly hope that one day there will be a situation when Georgian people would have a government which really thinks about the interests of Georgia and its people, which knows how to live in peace and to have good relations with all the nations in the Caucuses. And hopefully, this day will come.

Question: Do you mean with a new president?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: It's up to the Georgian people to decide.

Question: If we can ask about Iran...

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The last one.

Question: It's very high on the international agenda. The Americans look like they want to make a new effort to try and reach agreement on Iran's nuclear programme. What do you think should now be done that might ease the situation, lead to a settlement, and avoid possible violent actions which have been discussed?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Well, I certainly believe that there is no violent solution to this problem. I certainly believe that it was a very welcome step by President Obama when he addressed his message to the Iranian leaders and the Iranian people. It was a very respectful message. It was a very forthcoming message. And it said one very important thing among others, namely that the United States was ready to discuss a very broad agenda with Iran.

We have been suggesting to the Bush administration for several years that an approach of full involvement in negotiations with Iran would certainly make a difference, and we were trying to persuade the United States to join fully the negotiations proposed to Iran by three plus three, or five plus one, whatever you call it; UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States. And if the new administration in Washington can agree to join fully this proposed process, I think it would be a very important quality change. I certainly hope that parallel with this full participation in the process the United States would also promote bilateral dialogue with Iran.

But the main thing is that these proposals which three plus three moved forward some time ago, and also together with the proposed prestigious building conditions for negotiations, when we did this, we were fighting very, very hard to make sure that it's not just about nuclear programme, but it also contains these positive incentives, including economy, high tech, Iran joining WTO, removing all barriers to Iran's full integration in economic system. But also, ensuring that Iran would have dignified, equal place at the table when regional issues are discussed.

We managed only to agree in very a generic way to say that Iran would be invited to original dialogue. But I think when we speak about a political solution, when we speak about a comprehensive solution, we should also think of very important role which Iran, together with other countries in the region, can play to help resolve the problems of Afghanistan, the problems of Iraq; basically, almost any aspect of the Middle East agenda. And I think to engage, not to isolate Iran, would be very important.

And on the nuclear programme itself, our overriding concern is to make sure that IAEA can continue to work professionally, can continue to monitor what Iran has produced and has been doing, and IAEA doesn't have any difficulty with this. And we also believe Iran must fully cooperate with the additional requests of the Agency. We'll encourage Iran once again to implement the additional protocol. We will encourage Iran to engage in dialogue with the Agency on what is called the Alleged Studies. And when we've engaged in negotiations, and when we are satisfied with the Agency assessment that Iranian nuclear programme is entirely peaceful in nature, that's our overriding goal.

Then as the three plus three agreed, our position would be that Iran should have absolutely the same rights as any other non-nuclear member of NPT. So I believe it's a fair deal, and with the Americans hopefully fully engaged in the process, we can move the conditions building for negotiations.

Question: And this is now achievable?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Well, I wouldn't be overly optimistic, because we inherited quite an agenda with mutual grievances and suspicions, but I believe an honest dialogue, openness to discuss all issues, is a very important quality change.

Question: Do you see any changes in Russia's approach to Iran?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Well, we have... all I described to you is exactly the Russian approach; as far as I understand the approach of many hands who participate in these negotiations. And we want a settlement as soon as possible, and we want a settlement to be satisfactory to everyone. Iran is our historic neighbour, historic partner. We have been cooperating bilaterally and on issues which are of crucial importance for stability in Central Asia and the Middle East, one example being very close cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, and certainly the internal conflict in Tajikistan in the middle of the 1990s. So I believe that we all should concentrate on the diplomatic efforts, and all should engage fully. Then we have much better chances than we used to have in the past.

Question: Thank you very much.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Thank you.

Answers provided in writing to some questions submitted prior to interview

(translated from Russian)

Question: What problems and opportunities does the global crisis create in foreign policy?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Historical experience shows that a crisis causes either a recovery or catastrophic consequences. Unfortunately, there were cases in the history of international politics of the 20th century when ways out of the crisis were found by way of war. Obviously, nobody wants that experience repeated today. And there are no visible serious reasons for such concerns. This is a considerable advantage of the present stage of the global development.

On the other hand, this unprecedented example of a global financial and economic crisis - the first crisis of the globalization era that has affected all countries without exception - sets new tasks of great scope for the global community. We believe that the key challenge lies in building anti-crisis interaction involving the broadest range of countries based on equality and mutual interests. Moreover, this reinstatement of control over global development must be performed at both global and regional and national levels in parallel. That will be a win-win situation for everyone.

I think it is clear that we must proceed from the reality of growing interdependence and the task of building a new sustainable and efficient international system through the universal application of 'ground rules' common for everyone. We must not go back to the 19th century philosophy of a geopolitical 'concert of states'. In the 21st century, we are facing common trans-boundary threats and challenges that cannot be neutralized by building 'holy alliances,' regardless of their name.

The achievement of common goals would be helped greatly by deploying the full potential of the United Nations. This organization was created on the basis of a polycentric view of the world, but it can only start operating at its top capacity and according to its initial purpose now, in order to, among other things, help overcome the crisis on a legal and collective basis.

We expect that collective efforts in the financial and economic sphere would give a more pragmatic, and respectively, more realistic reference frame. Let us remember that focusing common efforts on the real tasks of crisis recovery will help rebuild trust in the sphere of military policy, too, relieving the negative impact of unilateral ideology-driven projects and the inertia of 'zero sum games.'

Of course, the crisis may unite as well as divide. Some may be tempted to take care of themselves only, expecting to get unilateral benefits at the stage of post-crisis global development. I doubt that would work, and I share position of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who warned about the danger of 'de-globalization.'

Question: What changes do you expect in the Russian-American relations under the new US president? Are any moves expected in strategic arms restrictions, placement of elements of the anti ballistic missile shield and creation of the common European security system?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Unfortunately, Russian-American relations have deteriorated considerably over the recent years. This is obvious for everyone. This state of affairs should be changed, and the sooner the better. The arrival of a new US administration opens good opportunities to 'reset' our interaction.

We sincerely hope that we will be able to open a new chapter in bilateral cooperation. First contacts with representatives of Barack Obama's administration, including my meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the 6th of March in Geneva, and the signals that we are receiving from Washington, have been reassuring. We expect that the first meeting of Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in early April in London will provide constructive tone for our dialogue and permit us to start translating those signals into practical actions.

Of course, one cannot say that our views are absolutely identical. However, the main thing is that our American partners have regained the taste for positive cooperation. With the spirit of pragmatism and reliance on mutual interests prevailing over both parties, we could make serious progress in solution of the most important tasks that our countries are facing.

I am convinced that we must not miss this chance. This is the imperative of the present time, required by national interests of both countries and our special responsibility in maintenance of international security and strategic stability.

We are facing serious, painstaking work on drafting new START arrangement to replace the Treaty expiring this year. Just like our American partners, we are ready to make progress in this matter as fast as possible, look for common grounds in the sphere of antiballistic missile defence on the basis of common analysis together with the Europeans, taking into accounts interests of all stakeholders, including Russia. We are waiting for completion of 'disarmament team' formation in Washington.

A broad field for common work is opening in the sphere of non-proliferation, were we have had traditionally good cooperation with the US. Priorities in this area include enhancement of NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), strengthening control over prevention of WMD transfer to the hands of private players, fighting against nuclear terrorism, and peaceful atom cooperation.

We also intend to partner with American side in search for solution to international and regional issues, including Afghan reconciliation, MES (Middle East settlement), Iranian nuclear problem, situation on the Korean Peninsula and many others.

One of the promising interaction areas is strengthening of the Euro-Atlantic security. The American side, seemingly, is abandoning the previous administration's allergy to the very idea of starting a serious discussion on that subject. Multilateral dialogue has been launched already, and we would be interested in active US involvement.

Of course, priorities of our political dialogue must not be limited to security problems, but they should cover a whole range of relations, including trade and economic cooperation. Through the years there has been progress, but the potential still hasn't been fully realised. The issue of strengthening the structure and mechanisms of our dialogue in this sphere and giving it an extra boost has been set nowadays.

So, we have a very broad agenda. I would like to reiterate that history gives us a chance to change the strategic context of Russian-American relations. We must use it.

Question: What is your opinion about Russia-EU relations and relations with individual countries of the European Union? Will the work on new Russia-EU cooperation agreement be sped up?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: In terms of their political, economic, and socio-cultural potential, Russia and EU are major geopolitical formations on the European continent. This is objective reality that predetermines the development vector of our mutual relations. There is a reason why we call ourselves strategic partners. Our partnership is not only caused by achieved results, but also by the scale of global challenges that we are facing, lack of alternatives to consolidation of efforts for development of adequate solutions to them. We are convinced that we shall still have demand for strategic partnership mechanism, and will constantly develop and improve it further. Life has given proof that Russia and EU are mutually dependent, and partnership may help us solve problems, including those emerging through the fault of the third countries. There are examples of this.

Still, there is one element that we find disturbing. When defining its position on Russia, the European Union proceeds from the smallest common denominator of the positions of all member states. While we understand the complexity of internal EU concords, we cannot but point out that this conservative approach sometimes impedes development of new initiatives and undertakings that could facilitate further deepening of our interaction in the interests of the Big Europe nations and the world as a whole.

Our work on a new basic Russia-EU agreement has progressed to the phase of drafting the contents of the future document's articles. With a constructive approach on the part of the European Union, we may expect that active negotiations will continue and lead to the signing of a strategic document that would correspond to common goals and take our cooperation to new qualitative level. We expect that the new agreement will become an instrument of real rapprochement between Russia and EU on the principles of equality, respect for interests of the parties and common approaches to key security problems.

I believe that this interview format does not allow me to speak in detail about Russia's relations with individual EU member states. Understandably, they are multifaceted, diverse and showing dynamic development as a whole. However, of course, every particular case has its own country-specific features. Those ties with some of the countries have the history of many centuries.

Question: Can we expect any changes in the energy sphere following the recent confrontation with Ukraine over gas? Will the list of consumers of Russian gas diversify to Asian countries, including China and India?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Like before, we intend to develop relations with our key partners in the energy sphere on the basis of the common principle of mutual benefit. Russia supplies energy resources to more than 20 countries of Europe and has proven its status of reliable supplier over decades. There won't be any changes there.

At the same time, the crisis over gas supplies through Ukraine has clearly demonstrated that current energy security mechanisms, like the Energy Charter Treaty, are not very effective, first of all in the transit of energy resources and suppliers' rights. That is why we support their reform, and if that turns out to be impossible, we shall promote development of new international legal regimes in this sphere.

January events have shown the magnitude of related transit risks. For a long time we have been urging the European Union to create an early warning mechanism with participation of Moscow and Brussels, as well as transit countries. Unfortunately, no practical steps have been made about those proposals so far. We hope that this mechanism will be created in the end.

We assign great importance to implementation of the North Stream and South Stream gas pipelines that would diversify Russian gas transportation routes and facilitate strengthening of Russia-EU energy cooperation infrastructure as a whole.

As far as supplies of Russian gas to the Asian countries are concerned, they have started already. In mid-February, President Medvedev attended the opening ceremony of gas liquefaction factory launched within the framework of Sakhalin-2 joint venture with participation of Russia, Japan, Great Britain and the Netherlands. The first tankers carrying Russian gas have set off for Japan. Thus, Russia entered this segment of gas exports and intends to expand its presence here. There are good opportunities for building cooperation with China by means of cooperation development in gas sphere.

Question: What role does Russia aspire to play in the Middle East?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The Middle East is a constant focus of our attention. The progress of the political process there has a serious impact on the situation outside the region, stability and security all over the world.

Russia has been continuously promoting the line of building and broadening of mutually beneficial cooperation with the countries of the Middle East, including both the Arab countries and Israel. We maintain high level of political dialogue, make regular contacts with representatives of entrepreneurial and public circles, expand economic cooperation, as well as military and technical ties.

Unfortunately, the most complex tangle of continuous conflicts in the Middle East remains a complicating factor. We aspire for peace, stability, and sustainable development benefits for all countries and nations of the region without exception.

As a permanent member the UN Security Council and participant of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, Russia has a special responsibility for keeping peace and stability in the Middle East region. Priority tasks include achieving a comprehensive settlement in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, strengthening security in the Persian Gulf area, continuous attempts to find political and diplomatic ways of easing tension around Iran's nuclear program, and the regulation of Iraq and Sudan situations. We are also ready for active cooperation on the basis of equal partnership, including within the framework of multilateral diplomacy, in the resolution of global challenges and threats that the region is currently facing, be it terrorism, WMD proliferation, environment or food crisis.

The key to stability in the Middle East is in the resolution of its central problem, the Arab-Israeli conflict. It can only be settled by political means. Moreover, it is clear that a lasting Middle Eastern solution can only be comprehensive, including Syrian and Lebanese tracks as well, and establishment of multilateral regional cooperation.

We are preparing a Moscow Conference on the Middle East to promote progress in the Middle East peace process following the Quartet agreements and the UN Security Council decisions.

Source: Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, www.russianembassy.org.

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