Russian Foreign Minister Interviewed on Syria, Missile Defense, Iran, Much Else

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Russian Foreign Minister Interviewed on Syria, Missile Defense, Iran, Much Else
Published 30-10-2012, 07:28
Interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by Vladislav Vorobyev: "Forand Against. Sergey Lavrov on Foreign Policy Foes, A Possible War Between the United States and Iran, and Much Else". Russian Foreign Ministry head Sergey Lavrov was the guest of "Business Breakfast" in Rossiyskaya Gazeta. 
(Vorobyev) Bashir al-Asad remains in power to this day, the West believes, thanks to the efforts of Russia and China. The following thesis has been suggested to us. You have repeatedly said that Moscow is in principle indifferent to who is president of Syria. The main thing is that he should be elected by the Syrian people themselves. But why, in that case, in your view, have relations with Russia and China on the one hand and with the United States and the European Union on the other even gone somewhat beyond the framework of normal diplomatic relations -- I could permit myself the phrase "beyond the framework of a certain diplomatic decency" -- when it comes to Syria? Why has such a highly tense situation arisen right now? 

Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, Syria is on everyone's lips right now. Both in the information area, and in practical affairs it is necessary to do something in order to stop the bloodshed there. Unfortunately, simplistic slogans such as that if not for Russia and China everything would have settled down there long ago are being drummed into the heads of the ordinary people and are gaining ground among the masses. You know perfectly well how the mass media can form public opinion, which is indeed happening in the West and the countries of the region with regard to the Syrian situation, whereby an extremely simplified interpretation, one dictated, as I understand, by the geopolitical interests of those who are expounding it, is being disseminated. 

In fact, the situation is pretty serious. The whole region has sprung into life. The "Arab Spring" is the shoots of the seeds that were sown already by George Bush Jr when putting forward the concept of the "Greater Near East" and the democratization of this entire area. Right now we are reaping the fruits, because this obsession with changes imposed from outside according to foreign recipes was in no way backed up by plans or by long-term or even medium-term forecasts and evaluations. The most important thing is that these slogans of changes and democratization were not agreed with the countries of the region. We have seen plenty of revolutions in our time, and firmly advocate that any changes should be carried out via the evolutionary path and should rest on the wishes of the peoples themselves. The fact that the peoples of the Near East region and North Africa, like the peoples of any other part of the world, want to live better and to be respected citizens in their own states -- this is absolutely natural, and we support these aspirations in an active manner. 

We spoke about this when the events of the "Arab Spring" began. At the same time, we insistently called on outside players to be guided by the principle of "Do no harm," for them to do everything to create the maximum favorable external conditions that would allow all the political forces of every Arab or any other country to agree on how they wanted to implement these reforms. The same applies to Syria. 

Bashir al-Asad has been made into a bugbear. But in actual fact, all these categorical allegations that he is to blame for everything are a cover for a grand geopolitical game. The process of the latest reshaping of the geopolitical map of the Near East is under way, a process in which the various players are endeavoring to secure their own geopolitical positions. Many have in mind not so much Syria as Iran. They openly say that it is necessary to deprive Iran of a very close ally, which is how they see Bashir al-Asad. All this is very sad. 

If you look at everything that is happening in a more comprehensive way, those who are sincerely interested in the stability of the region, in the creation of the conditions for its prosperity (and the resources for this do exist there) should be guided not by the logic of isolation used against Iran and earlier against Syria, but by the logic of involvement. It is enormously regrettable that our Wester n partners too often choose precisely the logic of isolation, and resort to measures of compulsion, endeavoring to introduce unilateral sanctions that have not been agreed in the UN Security Council and seeking regime change. 

Our approach is that this is counterproductive. Recipes like this that have been imposed from the outside will never produce a long-term stable result. Such a result can be achieved only through dialog. These principles are fully applicable to the situation in Syria also. 

Bashir al-Asad personifies the guarantor of the security of the minorities, including Christians, who live in Syria, and have lived there for centuries. Even on the most conservative assessments given to us in confidential contacts by our West European partners, at least one-third of the population still supports Bashir al-Asad as the person destined to prevent Syria from turning into a state in which minorities will have no possibility of existing. 

Using the principle of involvement, we have persistently sought from the very beginning of the crisis the cessation of any violence by all parties and the beginning of an inclusive dialog between the government and all the opposition groups. This is why, a year ago, we supported the Arab League's initiative proposing the deployment of Arab monitors. They began working in the country with the consent of the Syrian leadership, and we did much to facilitate this consent being granted. But as soon as monitors prepared the first report that did not contain one-sided blame for the continuing violence leveled at the government forces alone, and in which what the armed opposition was up to was covered objectively (although not in full), unfortunately the Arab League wound up the mission. 

After this the Kofi Annan plan, which also proposed the beginning of dialog, appeared. It was proposed to deploy a mission of UN observers in order to create the necessary conditions. Candidates for monitors were agreed with Damascus. We once again facilitated this. But after the first results in which violence began to decline a little began to appear, the monitors began to increasingly become the targets of armed provocations. Intolerable conditions were created for them, and they too were recalled. 

The impression arises that as soon as some gleam of light begins to appear in this situation, it is to someone's benefit not to allow the situation to be directed into a calmer channel and for the bloody battle inside Syria to continue, for the civil war to continue. 

Let me repeat, Russia honestly seeks from the Syrian government and all the opposition forces the realization that there is no alternative to a ceasefire and the beginning of talks. On our proposal, which coincided with Kofi Annan's initiative, on 30 June 2012 a meeting of the Action Group was held in Geneva, where a consensus document that received the name of the Geneva Communique was agreed. It says that all those who are warring against one another should cease to do so, and that all outside players should use their influence on the various sides that are shooting at one another with weapons in their hands in Syria, and should use this influence to get them to simultaneously declare a ceasefire and begin talks, allocating special representatives for this purpose. 

The communique was adopted by a consensus that reflected the joint, collectively agreed position of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Arab League, Turkey, the European Union, and the United Nations. Bashir al-Asad supported the document and appointed his negotiator. The corresponding call that we unanimously addressed to the opposition from Geneva was not heeded by it. Opposition forces not only did not appoint their own negotiating team, but even refused to accept the Geneva communique. This is one more confirmation of my conjecture that as soon as any movement begins to appear, it is to some people's benefit to thwart it. 

What we have right now is that the situation is deteriorating with every passi ng day. Government troops are forcing armed opposition detachments out of towns and population centers with variable success. But the opposition continues to receive arms, money, and moral support. When we talk to opposition figures -- both with the external opposition in the form of the Syrian National Council and with internal opposition figures, the so-called National Coordinating Committees --, we tell them that it is necessary to stop resorting to violence. Some of them reply to us that Western partners are telling them something completely different, calling on them to continue to dig their heels in, to shoot, and to defend their rights with weapons in their hands -- then, they say, the regime will fall. There are hints that external support for this line will also be provided. 

It is particularly sad that the opposition increasingly resorts to terrorist tactics. Our Western partners -- despite the long-ago established unshakable practice -- have begun to refuse to condemn these terrorist acts in the UN Security Council. Our American partners have even said through the official spokesman of the State Department that the continued incumbency of Bashir al-Asad in power only fuels extremist feelings. This is an indirect justification of terrorist attacks! I think that we are dealing with a highly dangerous position that could boomerang against those who are beginning to defend it. 

In Syria, it is not only the Free Syrian Army that is operating against the government -- the Army itself is far from homogenous or unified, and does not have a single command authority. Al-Qa'ida and other extremist groups connected with it are in Syria. The Free Syrian Army has already expressed its readiness to cooperate with Al-Qa'ida to overthrow the regime. Our Western partners should understand what kind of democratization they are seeking. 

The opposition is uncoordinated. In Geneva, our Western counterparts promised to bring the opposition together on a platform of readiness for dialog, but this has not been done. The inability of those who have an influence on opposition figures both in the West and in the region, to bring them together on a common principle so that it should become possible to understand with whom one is talking is one of the main reasons for what we are seeing right now -- namely, the continuing bloodshed in Syria. 

However banal it may sound, the Geneva communique was based on a consensus that is simple, but to which there is no alternative: ceasing violence, sitting down at the negotiating table, and agreeing on what we called in this communique "a transitional governing organ," the composition of which should be the object of consensus between the government and the opposition. This organ will be involved in preparing a Constitution and elections, and in the period before them would have full executive power. 

Let me repeat, Damascus supported the Geneva communique. Now it is the opposition's turn. We very much hope that Lakhdar Brahimi, the new special representative of the United Nations and the Arab League, who is due to arrive in Moscow for consultations in a week's time, will endeavor to endow the principles contained in the Geneva communique with a practical dimension. 

(Vorobyev) What is really going on between Russia and the United States right now? Does the United States remain our political enemy? What is the situation around missile defense? What is the fate of the "reset"? 

Sergey Lavrov: For us, the United States of America is not a foreign political enemy. We do not have foreign policy enemies, or any other kind of enemies, anyway. And we do not plan to create them for ourselves. 

There are countries that form the image of an enemy in order to achieve foreign policy goals. I think that some politicians in the United States are guided precisely by this -- the desire to strengthen their domestic political positions and to attract voters with this kind of bellicose rhetoric; as if to say, look what strong and uncompromising people we ar e. Undoubtedly, such rhetoric works on a certain section of the population. 

But for the past few years our relations with the United States have acquired an extremely positive dynamic in a whole range of areas. A systemically important factor has appeared in them -- I have in mind the Presidential Commission, whose activity is coordinated by our foreign policy departments. Twenty-one joint working groups function as part of it; they hold regular meetings and elaborate concrete accords, and then the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department prepare a joint report to the presidents of our two countries. Earlier, there was no such systemic mechanism. The Viktor Chernomyrdin-Albert Gore commission operated. At a certain phase, it was occupied only with economics. But the current Presidential Commission handles all questions on the bilateral agenda, including economics, contacts between journalists and through the channel of civil societies, and links between military and military-technical questions. So that this represents a transition to a new quality. We understand that the structuring of relations is extremely useful. 

On the practical plane, including with the use of the mechanisms of this Commission, we have achieved a whole range of concrete results: The Treaty on Strategic Offensive Weapons was concluded, and was welcomed by everyone, and is being currently implemented in practice with the support of the corresponding mechanism for monitoring its fulfillment (visits by inspection groups, telemetry, and so forth). During these years we have also ratified the Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, which opens up the access of Russian services in this sphere to the American market and creates possibilities for the joint work of Russian and American companies in the markets of third countries. Russia and the United States have concluded an Agreement on the relaxation of the visa regime. Businessmen and tourists can obtain three-year reusable visas, and do so more quickly than before. Maximum terms have been established -- 10-12 working days. 

Only quite recently we were able to secure the entry into force of the Agreement on Cooperation in the Sphere of International Adoption. This aspect seems at first sight a private matter, but it is perceived very emotionally by our society in view of the tragic incidents that have occurred with adopted children from Russia in American families. We have more than once voiced our indignation with the way that the American judicial system treats US citizens who have adopted children from Russia and then mistreated or abused them. Some incidents have led to fatal outcomes. 

It is unacceptable when persons guilty of killing Russian children and mistreating them receive either conditional sentences, or actually walk free from the courtroom. The death of a child and the abuse of minors is a far crueler crime than to take the hands of your daughter and glue them to the wall, as a certain mom did recently in America, receiving 99 years in jail for this. 

We have a glaring double standard here. No references to the fact that the judicial system is independent satisfy us. It has to be continually explained that a crime cannot have a national color whereby it is necessary to look after your own children, severely punishing those who bully them, but children adopted from abroad are, as it were, a different class of people. 

The judicial system must obtain exhaustive information from the executive authority, and the executive authority must cultivate in the judicial system a common attitude to all crimes, especially to crimes against children. 

I hope that the Agreement that we have concluded with the United States will help to change this situation and to establish monitoring of how our children feel in adoptive families. After all, before the entry of this document into force we did not even have the right to organize consular access to Russian children, or to receive information as to where adopted boys and girls from the Russian Federation end up in the United States. Now, according to the Agreement, every state in the United States appoints the corresponding institution that will be responsible for providing information to the Russian side via the State Department. We have not yet accumulated experience in this sphere, but, let me repeat, a pretty solid legal basis has been created. 

So that we have movement in a whole range of areas. I pass over the fact that at the meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama on the margins of the G20 summit in Los Cabos in June this year trade and economic relations were recognized as the no.1 priority. Our heads of state adopted a decision to put a special emphasis on stimulating trade and mutual investments. The current volumes are, of course, pitiful by comparison with the potential that both countries have. 

The Russian president suggested the creation of a joint mechanism to examine the problems that US investors encounter in Russia and Russian investors encounter in the United States. We hope that after the election battles it will be possible to obtain some kind of answer from the American side. Barack Obama actively supported this proposal, but so far we do not have a practical response from the American side. Though it would appear that everyone should be interested in seeing that businessmen do not encounter artificial problems, as twice occurred recently in the case of our Severstal Open Joint-Stock Company, which has considerable investments in Denver. 

Undoubtedly, there will inevitably be problems between any two countries, especially between such major powers as the United States and Russia. And problems there are, of course. I mentioned the topic of adoption, which is one of the highest priorities for me in view of its humanitarian resonance. But we are endeavoring to regulate it on the legal plane, and now it remains to implement all this in practice. 

In the wider, geopolitical context the problems of missile defense are the main obstacle in the path of constructing relations of strategic partnership between Russia and the United States and Russia and NATO. The aim of building strategic partnership between Russian and the North Atlantic alliance was recorded in the Declaration of the Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010. Missile defense is an inseparable element of strategic stability. An agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States on the restriction of missile defense was signed in 1972 on the initiative of the United States, which insistently sought the adoption of a thesis to the effect that a comprehensive approach embracing both strategic offensive and defensive weapons should be applied to strategic stability. We recognized this interconnection, and since then it has remained the cornerstone of all our contacts with the Americans on the problems of nuclear weapons and global parity in the sphere of strategic stability. 

Therefore when the US Administration decided to pull out of this Treaty and begin the creation of a global missile defense system, President V.V. Putin said that we could not obstruct the implementation of this decision, but that this would return us to the old times, and would undermine trust between our countries. And then George Bush Jr said that we were no longer enemies, do what you like, we ourselves will implement our own system. But we understood that all this could create additional and completely unnecessary difficulties, and therefore in 2007 President V.V. Putin proposed that we should elaborate a missile defense system together. The corresponding proposals were handed over "on the margins" of the summit in Heiligendamm in June 2007 and later, in early July 2007, at an informal meeting between two presidents in Kennebunkport. These proposals were dictated by a desire to genuinely change the character of our relations qualitatively in the sphere of nuclear weapons and strategic stability as a whole. Unfortunately, their breakthrough character was not noticed. But pe rhaps it was precisely because it was noticed that these proposals were not adopted. 

At the same time, the then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Moscow to discuss measures that would enable the Russian Federation not to fear that the missile defense system would create risks to our strategic nuclear deterrent forces. And we replied to them that if the measures proposed by the United States could be realized, this would be good. And the measures included the permanent round-the-clock presence of Russian officers at missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, and proposed technical measures that would have physically prevented radars from "viewing" Russian territory. This is what was proposed, and in the situation of the absence of an agreement on a joint system, it was perceived by us as the very minimum that was necessary. But later, unfortunately, these ideas were also withdrawn. 

I am going into the story in detail in order to show that the conversation has been going on for a long time, and that the Russian side displayed the initiative in the search for a common solution. The Americans apparently understood that some kind of guarantees that this system is not directed against us were necessary. But then, for a second time, all this was withdrawn. And nowadays no talk is being heard about steps like those that were discussed by Condoleeza Rice and Robert Gates. They tell us -- this system is not against you. But to our counterproposal to record this thesis in a legally biding form and to elaborate criteria that would allow us to see for ourselves at every phase of the creation of the US missile defense system that this is not against Russia, they reply to us that this is absolutely unnecessary, because we have told you that it is not against you. Why all these treaties, agreements, and other criteria? 

We will nevertheless continue the dialog and are not slamming the door. There is time. So far this system has not acquired any features that create a threat to our strategic nuclear deterrent forces. But our military people have definitely drawn the conclusion that such risks and threats will arise in the next phases. 

In the wider sense, I will say that we have suggested before now, and continue to regard as important, the idea of concluding a Treaty on Euro-Atlantic security. We declared a long time ago already in the framework of the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council the political obligation that no state should reinforce its own security at the expense of the security of other states. But this observation unfortunately does not apply. And we proposed concluding the appropriate treaty to ensure that this obligation should be turned from a political one into a legal one. Our Western partners, who are avoiding a conversation on this topic, continually torment us -- why do you need such a treaty? We have adopted a political declaration, take us at our word; and anyway, can you at least cite us an example of some situation in which such a legal obligation could be required? Yes, there is such a situation; it is precisely the one that we are talking about right now -- missile defense. Because missile defense creates risks to our security, and this system is being built for the sake of reinforcing the security of the United States and other members of NATO. This is an obvious case in which the declared obligations not to strengthen one's own security at the expense of the security of others are being violated. And there is no legal mechanism to move our conversation with the United States and NATO into the sphere of intelligible and practical steps, to make it possible to insist on receiving answers. 

Moreover, the United States' global missile defense system proposes the creation of bases in Poland, Romania, and the Mediterranean. This is all very close to the borders of the Russian Federation. The bases in Poland and Romania directly violate the legal and political obligation assumed by NATO members not to locate military in frastructure facilities on the territory of new alliance members. This is a propos why legally binding accords are necessary. 

Let us not forget that the European part of missile defense is only a segment of the United States' global missile defense system. A missile defense system is also being created at a no less rapid (and perhaps even quicker) pace in Northeast Asia together with America's partners -- Japan and the Republic of Korea; it will become part of the global system, and has been positioned very close to our borders. 

We are continuing the dialog not only with the United States, but also with NATO. Although everyone is perfectly aware that NATO missile defense is US missile defense, to the real control of which no one will be admitted but the United States. Therefore our dialog with the United States is key here, and so far we are seeing no progress. We did not want this situation to be "frozen" without movement to meet one another half way

As for the results of the forthcoming presidential election in the United States, we will work with the leaders who are in power and who are elected by the people. There have been plenty of examples in history whereby pre-election rhetoric has gone off the scale. But when the victor in the elections arrives in his workplace, he begins to occupy himself with practical matters. Only then is it possible to judge the true intentions of this or that administration. I am confident that whatever happens, and whoever triumphs, the United States' relations with the outside world will not go anywhere, and that relations with Russia in this context will play far from the least important role for any US Administration. 

(Vorobyev) Sergey Viktorovich, some time has passed since the incident of the forced landing in Ankara of a Syrian plane with Russian citizens on board. What is it possible to say right now about the nature of the load? What was that Syrian aircraft really carrying? Why did Moscow, so it seems, react fairly calmly to the resulting situation? If Americans had been in the place of the Russian citizens, Washington would no doubt have acted far more toughly. 

Sergey Lavrov: As for the load, we spoke about this right away, as soon as we had verified the waybill and received all the information. This was electrotechnical equipment for radar stations having dual purpose and not banned under any international treaties, conventions, or decisions of the UN Security Council. We are talking about an absolutely routine delivery of spare parts. The Russian supplier had contract obligations going back 10 years to provide radar stations with spare parts so that they should function normally. When the Syrian side informed the supplier of the need for certain components for this electrotechnical equipment, it was manufactured, packaged, and dispatched to Syria by legal means. It does not present any threat to passengers, the flight, or safety as a whole; it does not explode or shoot. Let me repeat, this is dual-purpose equipment, which can be used both for military and for peaceful purposes. But it is not a "shooting product," but radar equipment. It was later, after the fact, that we established all this. Bearing in mind that we are talking about a routine subject, it does not have to be reported to the government. Simply, the supplier was sending spare parts legally. 

Also after the fact, we established that when the pilot was only just drawing near to Turkish air space, the Turkish air traffic controller told him that they would be forced to land the plane for inspection, and that if the crew did not want to do this, the plane could change route -- either return, or bypass Turkish territory. The pilot replied that he was willing to land, because there was nothing forbidden on board. This short sketch shows that intentions to carry out some kind of illegal deliveries never even crossed anyone's mind. 

Under the Chicago Convention (International Civil Aviation Organization), any country having sufficient grounds to suspect tha t there are military goods on board an airplane has the right to force it to land. Which, in point of fact, is what Turkey did. The Turkish side inspected the goods and released the plane with the passengers and crew after confiscating the goods for further examination. The Turkish authorities refused to satisfy the repeated requests of the crew commander to issue a confiscation certificate. This element puts us on our guard. Especially seeing that, in parallel, categorical statements began to be heard from the lips of Turkish officials that arms and ammunition had been discovered on board. Now our Turkish counterparts, whom we are badgering on a daily basis on all aspects of this topic, have told us that there was electrotechnical equipment there. In this situation, we are asking them to publicly state that there were no arms or ammunition on board. We are still waiting. 

The second, more important aspect of the situation, is how they treated the passengers, including Russian citizens. First, when we found out that an airplane flying from Moscow had been forced to land, consular officials, having received a list of passengers and realizing that our citizens were among them, immediately demanded to be ensured access to them. During the more than eight hours that the plane was in Ankara, no access was granted. Our Turkish counterparts kept referring to the fact that the plane would fly at any moment, but this did not happen. 

Second, people were kept for two hours in a sealed airplane whose engines were switched off and whose air conditioning did not work. One of the passengers, the husband of a Russian citizen, became poorly, and people were forced to look for medicines on board. Then they opened the hatches and said that now everyone would be conveyed to the airport. But no one invited anyone to go anywhere. Then our citizens saw through the windows that a bus was standing on the airfield without a driver. Thus they never went anywhere, and food was brought on board that was insufficient even to feed the children. 

We learned about all this when the plane landed in Damascus. Then we found the Russians on board and asked them what had really happened. The situation differs from what our Turkish counterparts have told us. Therefore we will be seeking clarity in order to understand who gave the corresponding directives and who forbade our consular officials to go on board. All this is important, because it forms the character of relations between countries. And we are pretty close neighbors with Turkey, we have good relations, even relations of a strategic character; there are mechanisms of meetings at the highest level and at high level, and contacts are being developed in various areas. We would not want such episodes to cast a cloud over bilateral relations. 

(Vorobyev) Sergey Viktorovich, at the end of the week the Congress of Compatriots will be held in St Petersburg. The first congress took place in 2000 and bore a mainly ritual character. It was said that we remember, that we love, and that we value all the generations of emigres for preserving their language and culture; solemn ceremonies involving the return of citizenship and the issue of passports were held. Has not the time come now to set more ambitious tasks, for example, aimed at returning capital and brains (to Russia)? Will an intrinsically different task be formulated at this Congress? 

Sergey Lavrov: We formulated new tasks already at the previous Congress with the support of compatriots' organizations themselves. It was agreed that we will move away from the paternalistic model of collaboration, which was mainly limited to aid of a humanitarian character to veterans and to those in distress, to transferring funds and providing material help, and to purposeful work to assist the consolidation of compatriots in each country so that they should be able to more effectively obtain respect and ensure their rights. The overwhelming majority of them remain where they are living now, but they want to live there as equal citizens of the state in question. We will help them in this because, at the moment, a certain discrimination can be discerned not only in Latvia and EstoniThis topic has already become pivotal in the activity of the Government Commission for the Affairs of Compatriots Abroad. Undoubtedly, humanitarian aid is being continued, but the main forces are currently thrown into helping organizations of our compatriots on the plane of consolidating and ensuring a befitting role in the internal life of the state in which they live. We are helping them in this, inter alia, by assisting Russian-language publications. Thus the aforementioned Government Commission has set up its own portal, which is fairly popular. Books from the series "Russians in..." are regularly published -- the publications "Russians in Germany" and "Russians in Syria" have already been published, and the presentation of the books "Russians in England" and "Russians in the United States" have already taken place. 

The "Russian school abroad" project has already been formulated and should receive funding any moment now. The task has been assigned in such a way that, as a first step in every CIS country, there should be at least one school with education according to Russian standards. But one school per country is, of course, too few; we want there to be more. We will step up this work as financial resources are received. We want the program not to be restricted to the CIS alone, but to be implemented in other countries in which our compatriots live in large numbers too. 

As for the return of capital -- this falls somewhat outside the remit of our commission. I think that directive methods would not be suitable here. The same goes for brains. Brains and capital will return when people feel that there are opportunities in Russia for their productive and profitable application. This is a task for the government as a whole. The Cabinet of Ministers and the country's leadership understand this. One of the indicators of this is the president's instruction aimed at creating the maximum comfortable conditions for doing business. The most important thing is that everything should be fulfilled. 

(Vorobyev) What, in your view, is the reason for Russia's negative image abroad? Is this happening exclusively because something is not right inside our country? Or does the whole problem lie with Russian's energetic foreign policy line? 

Sergey Lavrov: Every country, including ours, has its internal problems. We do not hide this, but say so openly. We have the appropriate contacts established with the United States, the European Union, and other states interested in a dialog on human rights problems. In this framework it is possible to discuss any questions and concerns that our partners may have. Russia also participates in the Council of Europe and the UN Human Rights Council. These structures have monitoring procedures that are designed to provide confidence that the country in question is going down the path of fulfilling its obligations in the sphere of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. We cooperate with all these procedures. We are visited by delegations through the channel of the (UN) Committee Against Torture, by the OSCE representative on questions pertaining to the freedom of the mass media, and by others. 

We are open. And if our foreign partners, both at bilateral level and from international organizations, are seriously interested in helping to resolve the problems existing in our country, everything necessary for this is there. They should use the channels that have been created with the Americans, with the EU, and through the channel of international organizations. 

But if our partners' task is to score domestic political points in connection with or without connection to various electoral cycles, or to raise their profile among the voters and do this through public criticism of Russia, this is a somewhat different genre. And people will engage in this trade as long as there is a feeling that it brings them "domestic political gains." This has nothing to do with a genuine concern for human rights. 

In September this year hearings were held in the State Duma on the human rights situation in the countries of the European Union. Naturally, the Foreign Ministry prepared, at the State Duma's request, the relevant interesting materials, which you can study yourself. Representatives of the EU member states, and also of the European Commission, were invited to these hearings. A similar event on human rights issues in the United States was held in the relevant State Duma Committee 22 October. Deputies asked to be given statistics. To be honest, I learned with surprise that, it turns out, millions of citizens who formally possess the right to vote in the United States and are at an age that allows them to vote are not able to take advantage of this right. Thus every state has its own contrivances: In some places it is possible to vote by presenting one's driving license, while in other places, a more serious ID is required. But as a result, in my opinion, around 5 million people are unable to vote. In the United States itself there is much analysis as to who stands to gain from this -- the Republicans or the Democrats. 

You know, of course, that presidential candidates who are nominated by the Green Party and by other small parties are protesting the fact that they are not being allowed to participate in the debates. Not to mention the fact that the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other Western countries have still not fulfilled obligations assumed in the framework of the OSCE and have not incorporated obligations to invite UN international monitors to their elections into their national laws. 

Representatives of Russia visited the United States to monitor the US elections as part of the OSCE Mission and in the framework of bilateral contacts. In many states, they were simply not allowed into the polling stations. When the word "OSCE" is uttered, they start to look at you like someone who has problems with his diction and speech. It really is like that. I spoke with Condoleeza Rice when she occupied the post of US Secretary of State and voiced certain complaints, and suggested: "Condi, let us assemble our specialists in the sphere of human rights and on electoral monitoring and exchange best practices." To this, she replied literally as follows: "What kind of problems do we have?" I mentioned to her that in the United States presidential elections are not direct, but via the formation of an electoral college. Moreover, it is said that if in some state there is a margin of 2%, the candidate who has received 51% takes all the votes, and the electors are formed by this party. I also mentioned to her that in 2000 Albert Gore had received more votes than George Bush Jr. But with regard to the votes of the electors, the situation was different -- a problem arose. As you recall, they were recounted, and in the upshot, the recount was stopped by decision of the Supreme Court, in which the Republicans had a majority. As a result, a president came to power who had been voted for by a minority of US citizens. Do you know what Condoleeza Rice said to this? She said: "Yes, I am perfectly aware of this! But these are our problems, we are already accustomed to this system and have adapted to it. It works, and everything is fine." No doubt their system does work, because the Democrats did not take to the streets when Albert Gore was vanquished. But to refuse to discuss these things, to say that there is no need to monitor us, is also incorrect. 

And our colleagues from the European Union should not continually avoid answering the question as to why such a shameful phenomenon as noncitizens exists in the center of Europe, in the EU, and indeed in NATO. 

(Vorobyev) Our Western partners often recall that, as a result of the Arab Spring, Russia has lost influence in the Near East. Do you agree with this? What conclusions did Russia draw from the Arab Spring in general? 

Sergey Lavrov: We do not agree with this assessment, if only because we are in contact with virtually all the main countries of the region no less intensively than before, and perhaps even more actively. They come to Russia with alacrity; we also maintain contacts with all the opposition groups in the aforementioned Syria. None of them, not even the most radical opposition, says the things that we are hearing from our Western counterparts and from certain politicians in the region. 

Although there are examples like Jusuf El-Kardavi -- a religious figure who is famous for regularly issuing invectives addressed to us via the al-Jazeera channel. But this is an anomaly, a pathology. The overwhelming majority of Syrian opposition figures and all the Arab and other countries with which we are in contact unequivocally begin every conversation by saying that it is important for them that Russia should retain its presence in the region. 

Whatever happens, as in the past, when the region was liberated from the colonial yoke, Russia will be seen as a very reliable partner and as an important factor ensuring the geopolitical balance there. There is no prejudice against Russia. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Moscow 8-10 October this year. It might appear that at one time it was also predicted with regard to Iraq that Russia would find itself on "the wrong side of history." But we firmly stuck to our principles and sought to ensure that everything was done according to international law, and not simply because poor Colin Powell shook some little phial that had been slipped to him containing a white powder that he said was anthrax, and that unless war was begun, Saddam Hussein would poison the entire world. 

And we defended international law at that time precisely by not giving our consent to the approval of war in Iraq by decision of the UN Security Council. We are acting in the same way with regard to Syria, and of course, we remember the lesson of Libya, which virtually everyone else keeps in mind -- on that occasion international law was subjected to a strong test, and the decisions of the UN Security Council were distorted. Look at what is happening in Libya as a result; I pass over the tragedy in Benghazi and the extremely bitter fighting in Bani Walid. 

Our Western partners in the UN Security Council do not want to talk about the situation in Libya very much, but call for the approval of their resolution on Syria. But we believe that first it is necessary to learn the lessons from the Libyan experience, and at no event to repeat this colossal mistake. For us, this is absolutely axiomatic. 

And concerning the mantras that we are "on the wrong side of history" and that we have "lost the Near East," this all comes from the devil, it is the desir e to pass off wishes for reality and, at the same time, to attempt to somehow incline certain forces against us. But only marginal figures among the regional groupings can play this game. Serious countries and serious figures understand perfectly well how everything should look, and see Russia as a stabilizing component. 

(Vorobyev) Do you think that Israel or the United States will bomb nuclear facilities in Iran? Is war realistic? 

Sergey Lavrov: As the Libyan experience showed, a military scenario is, unfortunately, possible. Therefore we will be extremely exacting with regard to any approaches to the UN Security Council. We will not allow through any more cunning interpretations. We will ensure that no resolution is subjected to an interpretation like the Libyan one. 

As for Iran specifically, we are hearing the statements of our Israeli partners and the United States. Right now there is not a single piece of evidence that Iran has adopted the decision to include a military dimension in its nuclear program. The entire nuclear program of the Islamic Republic of Iran is implemented under the control of the IAEA, and enrichment of uranium to 4.5% is being carried out for the purposes of producing fuel. Some of our colleagues say, why does Iran need fuel; after all, the Russians deliver it for (the) Bushehr (reactor). But this is a question of fuel that is not banned by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Uranium is enriched to 20%, which is necessary, Iran claims, for the Tehran research reactor. This is indeed the case. The fuel there is of a higher level of enrichment. Unfortunately, the IAEA has not managed to agree a scheme whereby fuel for this reactor would be supplied from outside. The difficulties that arose were not our fault, although this reactor has been banned by no one, and Iran's need to obtain fuel is absolutely legitimate. 

The main thing is that what Iran is doing is not banned by the NPT or the rules of the IAEA. But the problem is that questions arose when it emerged that, many years ago, Iran had a secret nuclear program. And since then the IAEA has been systematically and painstakingly seeking to investigate the nature of this program. On the plane of practical actions, nothing forbidden has been found, only documents on the provenance of which the IAEA wants to receive an explanation from Tehran. We, of course, support this position, because any violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is unacceptable. 

But everything that Iran has declared as a component of its nuclear program during these years is under the monitoring of the IAEA. There are cameras there that monitor the centrifuges and other facilities in real time. IAEA inspection teams visit there regularly. We, of course, want Iran's cooperation with the Agency to be closer, for Tehran to start fulfilling the Additional Protocol to the Agreement on Guarantees as well. Despite the fact that the document is optional, in view of the history of the Iranian nuclear program, for Iran to fulfill the additional requirements connected with this Protocol would be important. 

But let me repeat, all the declared Iranian facilities are currently under the monitoring of the IAEA. The shortest route to our losing "eyes and ears" in this country is to start bombing Iran. I am convinced that a powerful movement would arise inside this country, one that certain experts have very aptly characterized as a desire to break off relations with the international community and kick out the inspectors. In this case, we would only be able to guess thereafter what was happening in the Iranian nuclear facilities. 

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