Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following a series of talks, Vienna

May 17, 2016

It’s been a long day here in Vienna. As part of a series of talks, we held a bilateral meeting with the US delegation headed by Secretary of State John Kerry. We discussed preparations for tomorrow’s event, the next meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG). We primarily discussed the specific steps needed for implementing the decisions that have been accepted in this format and approved by the UN Security Council. The decisions are related to three areas: consolidating the cessation of hostilities, expanding humanitarian access to the sealed off locations, and of course, continuing the political process.

We have emphasised the need for sending a signal to that part of the opposition that are putting forward ultimatums and preconditions. We told our US partners that upon our arrival in Vienna we held a meeting with the constructive opposition – the so-called Moscow-Cairo Group, the Khmeimim Group and a representative of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, whom certain ISSG members are unwilling to let join the negotiating process. I’m referring primarily to Turkey. We’ve had a good conversation with this opposition group; they have interesting ideas on how to carry out political reforms and prepare to work on a new constitution, and for elections. They have submitted these ideas to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura – as distinct from the radical opposition, or the so-called Riyadh Group, who are just urging an immediate solution to the so-called “Assad problem” and are reluctant to continue the talks without that.

We feel that our US colleagues understand the importance of pursuing the accurate implementation of our agreements, including the need for the presence of all opposition representatives at the talks with the Syrian Government delegation. We’ll see how it goes in the ISSG meeting tomorrow. To be sure, we’ve discussed the outlines of a likely final document. Russia and the US are the ISSG co-chairs. Possibly we’ll be in a position to suggest to the other members what can be said regarding the results of tomorrow’s meeting.

Apart from that, a meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh was held earlier today at US initiative. Russia, the United States and France are co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Today the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, jointly with the three co-chairs (Russia and the US were represented by their foreign ministers and France by a First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs), discussed the tasks to be addressed after the surge in violence a month ago. We agreed to seek compliance with the truce, the ceasefire, on the same terms that are in the agreement that was reached in 1994-1995. The three co-chairs will say this in a joint statement. We also arranged for the OSCE to formulate specific steps to investigate incidents that occur on the line of contact, that the OSCE should also help with the problem of those missing in action, and that in June the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia will coordinate the time and the venue of their next meeting, where the work to adjust the parameters of the final settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem will continue based on what’s been done within the framework of the political process.

Question: How tense was the dialogue between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan? Is a final compromise possible between them?

Sergey Lavrov: A compromise is always possible. At least, if there were no such possibility, Russia, the US and France would have stopped participating. We are working to move forward towards a full conflict settlement. I suppose this will have to be done step by step, given the tensions between the sides. But chances for coordinating the parameters of the first step of a settlement do exist. These were formulated within the framework of Russia’s mediation, which followed the co-chairs’ general approaches and received support from our French and US partners. We have reason to believe that the Armenian and Azerbaijanian negotiators will be in the right mood for compromises. We’ll promote this in any way we can.

Question: Can you say something more specific about the Riyadh Group? Can they be influenced and involved more actively in the negotiating process? Or will this Oriental bazaar continue?

Sergey Lavrov
: As I said, jointly with the Americans we are the ISSG co-chairs. On May 9, yet another joint Russian-American document was released dedicated to our commitments. Since we are involved in a division of labour of sorts, we have pledged to intensify our work with the Syrian Government and the Americans have assumed enhanced commitments to work with the opposition and their foreign partners who support this opposition in one way or another.

We have discussed the need for cutting off terrorist supply lines, primarily those passing through the Syrian-Turkish border. We have an understanding of what should be done. A part of these understandings implies bringing pressure to bear on all opposition groups for them to be guided by the UN Security Council resolutions. The resolutions say that the negotiations should be conducted between the Syrian Government and all of the opposition forces without any preconditions and that the Syrians themselves will decide the future of their country. This obviates any preconditions or ultimatums. We are in contact with the Riyadh Group, as with all other opposition groups, but it is other the parties and the other ISSG members, including the Americans, who have a decisive influence on them. They have assumed the relevant commitments. We’ll see how they live up to them.