Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the second session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Khartoum, 3 December 2014
Your Excellencies, Friends,
First of all, I’d like to join the others in thanking our Sudanese hosts for their hospitality and excellent organisation of today's event.
We met in Moscow in February 2013. Back then, we took important decisions about how to harness the power of Russian-Arab cooperation to benefit our countries, promote progress and cooperation in the economic, humanitarian and cultural spheres, and facilitate the settlement of numerous conflicts. We managed to create an effective mechanism for our Forum. Every year, we meet with Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi. We have a joint Russia-Arab League committee. The 2013-2015 Joint Action Plan was adopted and is now being implemented. Also, there are specific proposals that have been developed by the joint committee which focus on enhancing cooperation not only in the form of political dialogue, but also through coordination of specific projects in the trade, economic and cultural spheres, of which the Arab League Secretary-General spoke in great detail today.
Regarding our political agenda, we understand the Arab League’s deep concern with the events unfolding in the region. We share this concern. As you may be aware, we have been supporting the aspirations of the peoples of the region for better lives and for the ability to exercise their rights fr om the earliest days of the so-called Arab Spring. However, we have always cautioned that existing domestic issues and issues involved in transforming individual states must be resolved through inclusive national dialogue without external interference or attempts to steer events toward changing unwanted regimes. Unfortunately, such actions have been taken, resulting in growing chaos in the region, a sharp aggravation of ethnic and religious conflicts and a surge in terrorist activity. We fully share the commitment of our Arab friends to wage an uncompromising fight against terrorism. We are convinced that this fight must be waged on the basis of international law and without double standards. We are interested in a democratic and prosperous Middle East free from conflicts or threats to the wider world, and which is determined to maintain cooperation with all its international partners, including, of course, the Russian Federation.
Our colleagues already mentioned today several specific conflicts, focusing particularly on the Syrian crisis. Our views are well known. We don’t see eye-to-eye on all matters when it comes to the causes of the Syrian crisis or on how to resolve it. But we agree on one thing: the violence must be stopped and an inclusive political dialogue must start. The proposals by special envoy of the UN Secretary General Staffan de Mistura, whom I recently saw in Moscow, seek to achieve precisely this. We support his ideas about a ceasefire, starting with local truces, and launching a nationwide dialogue with the participation of the Government of Syria and all political opposition groups. We will help resolve issues that need to be resolved in order to begin such a dialogue.
We stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people fighting the threat it now faces. We support our Iraqi friends by helping to strengthen their defence capability in the face of the terrorist challenge and providing humanitarian aid.
We support the efforts of Arab states to create the conditions for resolving the crisis in Libya. We are aware of the initiatives that have been spearheaded by Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and now Sudan. We wish you every success in establishing a nationwide dialogue and moving things onto the legal field in order to achieve national reconciliation. We are willing to provide assistance to all these measures.
Just like you, we are particularly concerned by the deadlock in efforts to reach a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. We are aware of the plans to use the UN Security Council for a serious discussion of Palestinian-Israeli relations. We believe such a discussion is long overdue. We believe that it should be used as much as possible to confirm the goals that have been set by the international community for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. We must do our best to resume negotiations. We hear criticism of the Middle East Quartet which we believe is justified, because the quartet has long remained inactive.
We want this forum to step up its activities, but not in its old format. We want it to bring in the Arab League as a full-fledged participant, since the Arab Peace Initiative opens the way to a sustainable and lasting settlement. I hope that our Western partners will hear these proposals.
We commend Egypt's efforts to ease tensions around the Gaza Strip. These efforts should continue. We expect that our Egyptian friends will continue to work on Palestinian reconciliation and the restoration of Palestinian unity.
I will briefly mention the security issues in the Gulf. For several years now, we have been promoting the concept of security with our friends in a dialogue between Russia and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, which would bring all the coastal countries together in a constructive way and provide for participation in the process of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
As part of the efforts to promote dialogue between Russia and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, I’m pleased to say we have begun focusing more on economic cooperation. In just a week and a half from now, the first meeting of the Ministers of Industry and Trade of Russia and the Arab States of the Gulf will be held in Manama, Bahrain, which will also be attended by business leaders from our countries. I’m convinced that this is a very useful initiative which will reinforce the foundation of our cooperation. I share the view of Secretary General of the Arab League, Dr Nabil al-Arabi, that the Russian-Arab Business Council should step up its work. Let’s make sure that one of the results of today’s meeting is that our staffs get this message.
Things that are being done to resolve problems in Southern Sudan, Somalia and the entire Horn of Africa have already been mentioned. We are convinced that the current policy, wh ere African and Arab countries take the initiative to find solutions to various conflicts, is the only way to go. They are the only ones who can resolve their problems. You live here and you are more familiar with the situation. We should rely on your opinion and assessments. As a member of the Security Council, Russia will strongly encourage other members of the United Nations to take this approach.
I would also like to briefly mention an event that we are trying to organise. We believe it should be held as soon as possible. I’m talking about a conference on creating a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. There are certain nuances in the positions of the parties involved on how to organise this important event, but the outlines of compromises are starting to emerge, which would allow us, without violating our starting positions, to announce that this event will convene in the near future. I hope that our experts will continue this work, and we will reach an appropriate agreement.
I invite our colleagues to hold the next Russian-Arab League forum in Moscow next year. We will agree on the time later.