An Interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Sept. 26 2013 11:19 AM

“We Are Not Wedded to Anyone in Syria”

An interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

(Continued from Page 1)

L.W.: So you don't have any intelligence reports you haven't shared with the world?

S.L.: No. On the occasion of the incident in Aleppo on March 19, when the United Nations, under the pressure [from] some Security Council members, didn't respond to the request of the Syrian government to send inspectors to investigate, Russia, at the request of the Syrian government, investigated that case and the results of this investigation are broadly available to the Security Council and the public. The main conclusion is the type of sarin used in that incident was homemade, and we also have evidence that the type of sarin used on August 21 was the same, only of higher concentration.

L.W.: I understand that fighters from the Caucasus have gone through Turkey into Syria. … Do you fear the possibility of violence spilling over into the Caucuses?

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S.L.: This should not be addressed just to Russia. The jihadists from many European countries, Russia included, and some even from the United States, hundreds of them if you take Europe, Russia, and the U.S., are fighting there in the ranks of extremist groups, and I am sure they are gaining the experience which they will try to use after the Syrian crisis is over elsewhere, first and foremost in their home countries. This is our common threat. That is what we must be discussing and not just engaging in the rhetoric of who should go and who should stay, which authoritarian leader is unacceptable and which authoritarian leader could stay for some time as long as he plays the right game. …Either we agree that any terrorism is unacceptable, or we will be playing a double standard game where some son of a bitch is OK because he is our son of a bitch.

L.W.: Do you think the U.S. administration came to understand the threat of extremism and that is the basis on which the Russians and Americans are now able to work together?

S.L.: It's not only the United States, but by now everyone understands this threat. It motivates people to convene Geneva II. To do this, we need to stick to the Geneva communiqué of last year, which provides for a political process. … It's only the Syrians themselves who can resolve the problems of their country and determine its destiny. … The Syrian government and the opposition groups must agree on the composition of a transitional governing body, which will have full executive authority. … You cannot impose on one side or another a solution. … If people are motivated by the desire to change the regime, then I am afraid we are in for a very long civil war.

L.W.: Do you see the United States and Russia working together on other issues, such as Afghanistan?

S.L.: We work together in Afghanistan. We provide transit facilities, we cooperate in equipping the Afghan army and security forces with arms and helicopters, we cooperate in training officers for law enforcement agencies. We'd like to do more in fighting drugs that are coming from Afghanistan. We also cooperate on many other issues. Nuclear energy, for example. We agreed on visa facilitations. Now American and Russian tourists and businessmen can ask for three-year multiple visas and the waiting time should not be more than 14 days. President Putin suggested to President Obama: "Why don't we move to a visa-free regime?"…

The meeting of the two presidents, which was scheduled for Moscow before the G20 summit, was supposed to endorse several important documents, including a presidential statement on the strategic prospects of Russian-American relations. … We don't overdramatize the fact that this summit was postponed. We believe Russian-American relations are broader and larger than emotions and mutual grudges, including the situation with the U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden.

L.W.: How do you see the recent developments in U.S.-Iran relations? What's your assessment of the new president of Iran?

S.L.: I'm not about personal characteristics. So far, what we hear from Tehran is encouraging. They confirmed the need to continue negotiations, they expressed their desire and willingness to be more transparent and to be more concentrated on reaching a result. Provided, of course, that the reciprocity is there.

L.W.: You mean the lifting of sanctions?

S.L.: Absolutely. The sanctions were imposed because of the lack of results in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. If progress is achieved, this must be followed and reciprocated by softening and eventually lifting the sanctions.

L.W.: Didn't you have a proposal a few years ago for a stage-by-stage plan: Iran would do certain things and in exchange, certain sanctions would be lifted?

S.L.: That's right. It was the only workable version.

L.W.: Is Russia wedded to President Assad? Or could there be another leader of Syria who could help solve this crisis?

S.L.: We are not wedded to anyone in Syria. We are not concerned with any personality. We are concerned with keeping Syria in one piece, territorially integral, sovereign, independent, and secular, where the rights of all groups, ethnic and others, are fully respected. And that is the goal which I believe the United States also has. The more we try to find common approaches to get there, the more efficient our cooperation will be.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.

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