Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments and answers to media questions on the sidelines of the APEC Ministerial Meeting

Novermber 8, 2017

An APEC Ministerial Meeting, held as part of preparations for the APEC summit that will begin the day after tomorrow, has opened in Da Nang, Vietnam. The ministers have coordinated the draft documents, which will be forwarded to their leaders for discussion. The focus this time is on the attitude towards protectionism: should it be denounced or precluded, as the majority of the APEC economies propose, or should we refuse to assume additional obligations, as the current US administration, which is revising President Obama’s attitude to world trade, is trying to do? Doubts have been expressed that the openness of world trade is a boon for the United States. There will be fierce discussions.

We are meeting amid global political and economic problems. The volatility of currencies and markets, including commodity markets, is preventing us from developing a stable long-term strategy. It is one of the subjects that is being discussed at the meetings of foreign and economic development ministers (some countries are represented by finance ministers).

This is the backdrop for discussions of new elements, such as the digital economy and breakthrough technologies. Priority attention is being given to these subjects in Russia. The President and Prime Minister of Russia have spoken on them in great detail and have issued a series of practical instructions. We have drawn the attention of meeting participants to a specific aspect of information security: the provision of free access to information and the prevention of abuse of information technologies, in particular for criminal or terrorist purposes. A few years ago, we advanced an initiative at the UN on behalf of the SCO that provides for drafting universal rules of conduct in cyberspace. Today we have again highlighted this issue at the APEC Ministerial Meeting. I hope that now that the abuse of the social media and information technologies in general is becoming a common and growing threat this subject will be given additional attention in the APEC economies and, on a broader plane, at the UN.

We will look at the results of our meeting today, as well as at the projects – and the final wording – that will be forwarded for consideration by our leaders.

Question: It is rumoured that the Americans may refuse to sign the final declaration because they insist on the term “fair trade” rather than “free trade.” Is this true?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, I have heard about this. We know about this US approach. The talks are not over yet, and we may yet find a compromise. However, US conduct on global markets does not depend on the phrasing of our common approach. The Americans will continue to be guided by their own interests, which President Donald Trump outlined during his election campaign as moving as much foreign production as possible back to the United States. Considering the huge scale of the US economy and its share in the world economy, this would have the most serious consequences for world markets. I am sure that our partners and we will look for ways to adjust our actions to the possibility of this change in the US position so as to prevent damage to national economies and our development plans.

Question: President Trump said in a speech in the South Koran parliament that he wants peace through strength, the time for reasoning is over and the world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens with nuclear devastation.

Sergey Lavrov: I take it he was talking about North Korea.

We have expressed our attitude towards this subject more than once. We believe that any exchange of threats and even abuses, which both sides have swapped, will not produce good result. We need to sit down and negotiate. There is the Russian-Chinese proposal. We firmly believe that there is no alternative to a peaceful settlement. Everyone must address this problem with a cool head instead of raging emotion. The game is too dangerous. I have already cited what Secretary of Defence James Mattis has said on this matter last summer. He said that a war with North Korea would be catastrophic and would claim tens of thousands of lives. The latest estimates say there would be millions of casualties.

Question: Will President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump hold a full-scale meeting, or will they meet on the go?

Sergey Lavrov: As I said, we have heard what President Trump said about his plans to have a meeting with the President of Russia. Vladimir Putin is ready for this, the Americans are aware of it, and our protocol departments are keeping in touch. When our leaders’ schedules are coordinated, you will be told about it.

Question: Will you meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson?

Sergey Lavrov: As far as I know, he will only come here with President Trump. Therefore, we will most likely talk during the summit.

Question: What will you talk about?

Sergey Lavrov: The subjects on our agendas. Our bilateral relations need major repairs after what Barack Obama’s team did to sour them. The international issues include the Korean Peninsula, the Syrian settlement, Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as Ukraine, where a US envoy seems to have become more active, allegedly planning to hold a meeting with Vladislav Surkov, Russian presidential aide, in the next few days. There are more than enough issues for discussion.

Question: Important statements were made at the first Putin-Trump meeting, but the American side disavowed many of them pretty quickly. Can the same happen this time again?

Sergey Lavrov: Not that these statements were disavowed. However, President Trump is being prevented from implementing his presidential powers, including cooperation on cybersecurity with Russia.

It is true that during their meeting in Hamburg the two presidents discussed the possibility of resuming cooperation on cybercrime. We proposed creating a group on cybersecurity, which would also consider the sides’ concerns about each other’s activities. President Trump thought this initiative held promise. It was announced that the sides had reached a preliminary agreement. But the Congress raised a hue and cry over the White House cooperating with Russians who had interfered in this very area, that is, America’s cybersecurity, the hacking of the Democratic Party’s servers, and much more. The established facts show that not a single Russian connection has been found. All the connections that have been found are internal, including at the Democratic National Committee, where an insider interfered with the process and leaked information to the rivals.

Of course, agreements can be reached, but they immediately become an internal political struggle and turn into games aimed at complicating President Trump’s life and work.

Question: The Ukrainian authorities have decided that Russian artists must receive permits from Ukraine’s security services to tour the country.

Sergey Lavrov: I have stopped commenting on what the Ukrainian authorities are doing. It looks as if they themselves no longer understand what they are doing.