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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov press conference at the CD, Geneva, 7 March 2009

Transcript of Remarks and Response to Media Questions by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference After Address to Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, March 7, 2009

I just read out at the Conference on Disarmament meeting the statement of President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, "On Conclusion of an Agreement with the USA to Replace the START Treaty." The document reflects Russia's principled approaches to elaboration of a new full-format agreement with the United States on the further mutually verifiable reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.

We welcome the positive signals from the new US administration. We are convinced that, after a long hiatus, Washington's renewed interest in the disarmament process can become a key aspect of a new, positive agenda for both Russian-American relations and multilateral disarmament talks.

We want a future Russian-American agreement on strategic offensive arms to be legally binding in nature, and to limit not only warheads but also their delivery vehicles - intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. We also consider it necessary to exclude possible deployment of strategic offensive arms outside national territory, and to prevent "upload" and "compensatory" potentials alike.

President Medvedev stressed Russia's commitment to the goal of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, in full accordance with NPT obligations, and our preparedness for talks with the new American administration.

Besides, we shared the Russian assessments of key nonproliferation, disarmament and arms control issues in the address and affirmed Russia's intention to continue countering any extension of arms race, primarily to outer space. There is a joint Russian-Chinese initiative on this score that is being examined by the participants of the Conference on Disarmament. We declared the readiness to develop the Russian-Chinese initiatives to prevent the placement of weapons of any type in outer space. I am certain that such work will help ensure the predictability of the strategic situation, which I do not doubt all states enjoying the benefits of peaceful space are interested in.

We highly appreciate the weighty contribution of the Conference to the strengthening of international security, we stand for making full use of the potential of this forum and we are interested in the early start of the negotiation process based on a coordinated work program meeting the interests of all member states.

I am convinced that multilateral diplomacy and the readiness for compromises and to overcome the crisis phenomena jointly is the only way to solve the tasks facing the international community, a solid methodological base for achieving real progress in the disarmament sphere. Much time has been lost. That is why we are disposed to work intensively with the American partners and with all states involved in the activities of the Conference on Disarmament.

Question: What conclusion can be drawn from your talks yesterday with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Middle East settlement? What are Russia's proposals on this issue?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The conclusion we draw after yesterday's talks with the United States Secretary of State is that solving Middle East problems on the basis of creating a Palestinian state and ensuring the peaceful coexistence of this and all other states of the region with Israel is a realistic proposition. We felt a continuing adherence of the new American administration to just this kind of approach. In the new conditions the situation needs to be reassessed along with deciding on immediate steps. But I am convinced that the strategic goals of creating a Palestinian state and realizing the concept of "two states" - Palestine and Israel - living in peace and security with each other and with all other states remain unchanged. I hope that in the near future, as soon as the formation of a government is completed in Israel, we will fix the date for the Moscow Conference, designed to "re-launch" the peace process, not from zero but based on what has already been achieved by the parties.

Achieving Palestinian unity is a major condition for the effectiveness of work in this direction. We welcome Egypt's efforts to determine conditions for that unity, particularly to forge a government and prepare presidential and parliamentary elections in Palestine. We believe it is a hugely important initiative, and that any other ideas that would run counter to the efforts of Egypt will be counterproductive. That's why our activity is now concentrated on support for Cairo's efforts.

Question: Did the concerns of Russia over the US intention to deploy striking forces in space diminish after yesterday's meeting? At what stage of development is the Draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space at this moment?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I have already answered this question in my opening remarks. As to the position of the United States on non-placement of weapons in outer space, a review of the approaches of the new administration toward all aspects of the disarmament problem is not over, it is continuing. We hope this review results in a position enabling negotiation based on the Russian-Chinese initiative and other initiatives being put forward by states interested in outer space remaining peaceful.

Question: In your statement you supported the initiative to create an international nuclear fuel cycle organization and spoke of forming stocks of low-enriched uranium. Missiles fired on Lebanon (2006) and Syria (2007) contained warheads with low-enriched uranium. One has the impression that by your statement you close the regime of nuclear weapons which have gone obsolete and open a new era of weapons which leave radioactive contamination after themselves. The United States has repeatedly tested such weapons in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. Could you comment upon this?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I find it very difficult to comment on this, because the statement is very strange. The multilateral centers providing nuclear fuel cycle services will be working under full IAEA control; will be producing not stuff for weapons but fuel for atomic power stations. Hence I discern no link between this highly important initiative, approved by all states, and events in the Middle East, including the use of weapons against civilians.

Question: In your address you spoke of converting the Middle East into a nuclear free zone. How can Israel be drawn into this process?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: As I have said, states parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons spoke in favor of creating a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. There are the Security Council decisions backing efforts aimed at creating that zone. I won't speak long about what's obvious. This is a very complicated question linked to many aspects of the evolution of the situation in the Middle East and depending substantially on how the comprehensive Middle Eastern settlement process advances. That's why I can recommend nothing but a continued persistent and patient search for compromise solutions and I am certain that the urgency of this theme not only persists but will also grow as we all advance towards a peaceful arrangement for the Middle East.

Question: Is the feeling of a friendly atmosphere in the course of your meeting yesterday with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton evidence of something concrete? Will pressing the "reset" button signify a similar "resetting" in the field of strategic arms talks?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: As you understand, the first meeting is always dedicated to getting acquainted with each other. That's the kind of meeting that took place yesterday. The agenda of bilateral relations was discussed in the course of the talks - including regional and international issues. We agreed that not one of the existing questions would be removed from the agenda. I mean both the questions on which our positions are similar and contentious issues which should also not be left without attention. We developed something like a "schedule" envisaging not only meetings between representatives of the Russian and US governments, but also a list of questions which need to be discussed. We agreed to bring considerations to the attention of our presidents regarding what directives they could give to the relevant departments in Moscow and Washington in order to carry out joint efforts aimed at achieving progress on a whole array of issues. The main priority, chronologically and essentially, is the Strategic Arms Treaty which is set to expire in December this year. We hold that a new such treaty is needed.

Indeed, the meeting passed in a friendly atmosphere. We did not begin talks on the substance of issues. The talks will be harder to conduct, as is the case with any talks in general. But we concurred on the need to focus on key issues of our agenda. As soon as a team of American disarmament negotiators is formed, we will hold a meeting with our partners at the level of expert groups and will endeavor to get a new treaty ready by the end of the year.

Question: Do you consider it necessary to limit the warheads in warehouses? Deploying which types of strategic offensive arms do you think is impermissible outside national territory?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Regarding the first part of the question, I talked at length about this in my address to the Conference on Disarmament, and also mentioned it here. We hold that all warheads should be limited - not only so called operationally deployable, but also the warheads in warehouses - in order to prevent an upload potential. We think it necessary to limit all strategic offensive arms carriers.

As to nuclear weapons deployment outside national territory, at issue are ground-based nuclear weapons in the first place. The world ocean, in our conviction, will not be an object of any new international legal regulations. The rules that exist in line with present-day international law should fully remain in force.

Question: Was the antimissile shield issue discussed at the meeting with Clinton? Her remarks seem to suggest that the US is prepared to give up deploying a MD system in Europe. Will Russia cooperate with the United States on this issue? Does the Russian Federation intend to toughen its position on Iran's nuclear program?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We discussed the missile defense issue, and presented our position underlain by a very serious competent analysis of military specialists. If a third positioning area in Eastern Europe is actually created this would involve risks for the strategic interests of the Russian Federation. We would have to take account of measures to alleviate this risk. At the same time, we would prefer not to move in this direction. If, as our American colleagues say, the idea is to counter a threat from the "south," then the offer made by Russia two years ago regarding joint monitoring of these questions with the use of the facilities Russia has (both on its own territory and on the territory of neighboring countries) precisely implies an appropriate action in relation to threats from the "south."

We think it advisable in cooperation with the US and European countries to look at how it is possible to jointly use our intellectual potential instead of relying on this or that decision made in one capital. We are waiting with interest for the results of a study of this matter by the new US administration. It is about the expedience of deploying MD in a specific country and about possible additional schemes to counter threats in relation to the spread of missile technologies and to provide protection from such threats. The very fact of this examination means that the third positioning area in the Czech Republic and Poland does not appear to be the sole option from even the viewpoint of American experts. As I have said, the Obama administration is now studying this matter. Yesterday we asked our US partners to also consider during this review the assessments which Russia has presented. We are prepared to set out our considerations in greater detail in the course of a further discussion of this theme with the American side.

Of course, Iran is a separate question. On Iran Russia and the US work jointly in the Group 5+1 format. The group developed its proposals and presented them to Iran. We hope that the Obama administration's scrutiny of possible approaches to Iran will consider not only US interests, but the point of view of other countries as well and we expect that this will lead to a reinvigoration of the US efforts in search of a political and diplomatic solution.

Question: Is Russian-American military cooperation possible with respect to Iran? In your address you mentioned the incipient progress in the disarmament process. Why did you feel that precisely now?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Regional conflict situations, including the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear program, have no military solution. That's why we are ready for contacts between the Russian and US military, but it is not about any joint military action to solve such problems. We're also interested in developing military contacts on a bilateral basis in context of the resumption of the work of the Russia-NATO Council on the principles of equal security. First and foremost, we want to develop compatibility of our peacemaking capabilities. This is a very important area of activity. I think that our military will be in a position to look for possible ways of cooperation here.

As to appraisal of the present moment in international relations, the advent of the Obama administration has, of course, changed the situation because the question of multilateral disarmament is given heightened attention, something we did not observe in the previous administration. Everyone in the world has seen for themselves that the development of events has been acquiring too alarming a character in recent years. An understanding grows of the need for real collective effective steps to reduce tension and to build new limits into the regimes which ensure the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction and prevent their falling into non-state actor hands. The accumulation of all these factors creates the positive critical mass that can - given the general political will - evolve into concrete decisions to ensure progress in the cause of disarmament.

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

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