Opening remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during talks with President of Greece Prokopis Pavlopoulos

November 2, 2016

Thank you very much, Mr President.

First, I would like to convey President Putin’s warmest greetings to you. He has good memories from his time here in May, as well as from your visit to Russia in January, during which you started off the cross-cultural year between Russia and Greece. I know that it has a rich programme full of exciting and beautiful events. We are pleased to see such a programme being implemented by and between our countries. As you mentioned, today we will have the opportunity to discuss all aspects of our bilateral relations with the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Of course, we will touch on the international agenda, including the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, focusing primarily on the Syria crisis and the Cyprus settlement. From the outset of the so-called Arab Spring, which everyone welcomed enthusiastically, we have urged everyone to resolve issues through an inclusive political dialogue involving all ethnic and religious groups in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, rather than through regime change.

The situation has somewhat stabilised, though not without difficulties and problems, and we are supportive of this process. Unfortunately, there’s no government in Libya. It must be re-created. These issues are raised in the UN, and we try to support these processes, because leaving Libya as a black hole used by migrants from half of the African continent to access Europe is unacceptable. We hope that our partners will draw lessons from the so-called Arab Spring, and we will honestly work to establish a political process in Syria, involving both the government and all opposition groups, that allows Syrians themselves to determine their future.

Following lengthy talks within the International Syria Support Group co-chaired by Russia and the United States, we adopted a UN Security Council resolution, which sets out a comprehensive approach to resolving the Syria conflict. The resolution provides for an immediate start to political talks without any preconditions, easing the humanitarian situation, which in many parts of Syria is simply critical, and waging an uncompromising fight against terrorists. Furthermore, the opposition groups which want to be part of the political settlement, must break with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and disassociate themselves from them. I remember well that at the time when this resolution was adopted, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that those who want to be part of the settlement must immediately break with the terrorists. It's been almost a year, but we still hope that these fine words will materialise into action.

We’ve been working for a few months now to resolve problems in Aleppo based on the Russia-US agreements. Unfortunately, as soon as they have been reached, Washington has, in fact, withdrawn from them. Humanitarian pauses were announced on several occasions. As you may be aware, neither the Russian nor the Syrian air forces have been working on Aleppo over the past two weeks. However, each and every time the extremists took advantage of these humanitarian pauses and replenished their ranks and arsenals of weapons. Jabhat al-Nusra controls eastern Aleppo. It controls all the armed groups. In fact, they hold the civilians hostages. We keep working on it in cooperation with the United States, the Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. We are looking for ways to defuse the crisis in Aleppo. Unfortunately, the most important task, which is to start without delay the political process, is sabotaged by those who, in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, play up to extremists who do not want any talks, but just have set sights on overthrowing the Assad government.

We are convinced that if everyone complied honestly and conscientiously with the UN Security Council resolutions on the Syrian settlement, the situation would have improved by now.

With regard to the Cyprus settlement, I believe that the main cause behind our failure to reach an agreement here is that certain parties are unwilling to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. You mentioned the attempts to replace the set of principles developed by the UN Security Council with a variety of new interpretations. We believe that this represents a dead end.

Of course, we reject any and all outside attempts to exert pressure on the negotiation process. We condemn the attempts to establish any artificial deadlines. Greek and Turkish Cypriots should sit down and talk directly. Notably, the UN Security Council has defined a framework for future agreements regarding sovereignty, property, and security guarantees. We will help to ensure that the efforts made by the UN are in line with the UNSC resolutions, and do not create additional problems. Of course, we understand the role that Greece and Turkey can play in this process, and we hope that our Greek friends will share with us their view of the current status of the Cyprus settlement.

Thank you.

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