Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to questions from the TASS news agency

February 7, 2017

Question: What is the likelihood the United States becoming involved in negotiating a Syrian settlement? Can the precedent of the Americans providing our Aerospace Forces with ISIS coordinates in Syria grow into full-scale military cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: First, we have yet to see and understand what the Trump administration will do at the practical level. It is still in the process of staffing the relevant agencies in the State Department, the National Security Council and other subdivisions. We are in contact with the people who have already been appointed. We expect that as soon as they complete the formation of the relevant subdivisions in all governing bodies related to foreign policy we will be able to go ahead with normal dialogue, and then it will become clearer how closely we will be able to cooperate. However, even now it is clear that Donald Trump’s firm position on the priority of the fight against terrorism, above all ISIS, in the international arena has a favourable impact on the general situation and the formation of a joint antiterrorist front that President Putin spoke about from the UN General Assembly rostrum way back in 2015.
Regarding the concrete actions to coordinate antiterrorist efforts. From day one, when the Russian Aerospace Forces, at the invitation of the legitimate government, the legitimate president of the Syrian Arab Republic, began targeting terrorist positions in that country, we proposed to the Obama administration coordinating those actions with the Americans, who by that time had already led the coalition, which provided air support in fighting terrorists in Iraq and also started doing the same in Syria, for almost a year. The Syrian government did not object to that. At that time it was a very good opportunity, at the initial stage, to ensure a more effective fight against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the like. Then the Americans rejected coordination out of purely ideological considerations but went ahead with the so-called “deconflicting,” that is, an agreement on procedures to avoid air incidents between their and our aircraft. These procedures started working although it took four to six weeks to coordinate them. They are still in effect. However, at all stages, including during last year’s “marathon” between myself and former US Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as between our military officials, which led to the approval of a very concrete document to coordinate actions that was subsequently rejected by the US administration, we have always believed that in addition to incident avoidance procedures, we should establish real coordination regarding targets and airstrikes against terrorist positions.
The fact that despite months of conversations, which resulted in a corresponding agreement, the Obama administration did not comply with it, whereas the Trump administration, within the first several days in office, took concrete, if one-time, action in the fight against ISIS, is a good comment on both White House administrations. I believe the present administration is far less ideological and far more focused on concrete results, which, with this approach, in my view, will be more meaningful and substantial.