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May 14, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6923

Reactions To Lavrov's Meetings With Trump And Tillerson

May 14, 2017
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6923

On May 10, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House as part of his three-day trip. The meeting with Trump followed Lavrov's discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a month after Tillerson's visit to Moscow, where he met with Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin.[1]

The meeting focused inter alia on the Syrian crisis, and specifically on the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria. On May 4, 2017, Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a "Memorandum On The Creation Of De-Escalation Areas In the Syrian Arab Republic," during the fourth round of the Astana talks. The memorandum states that the creation of the de-escalation zones is a temporary measure that will last initially for six months.[2] During the press conference in Washington, D.C., Lavrov said that the creation of these zones was an idea initiated by U.S. officials – President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson. Lavrov added: "We used the Astana venue to promote its practical implementation. We will welcome any U.S. contribution."

During the press conference, Lavrov also expressed his hopes for improved Russia-U.S. relations. Lavrov said: "We discussed the state of our bilateral relations, which is not encouraging. We are well aware why relations are where they are now. Unfortunately, the previous U.S. administration did everything to undermine the foundations of our relations. Now, we have to work almost from the ground up. We perfectly understand that Russian and U.S. citizens want to live in peace and be able to interact normally. I think that the politicians should make sure that all artificial obstacles that lie in our way should be removed.

"Secretary of State Tillerson and I discussed the outcome of the meeting of our deputies, who reviewed the state of our bilateral relations in New York the day before yesterday. Clearly, they did not resolve all the problems. I would even say that the progress is fairly modest. We agreed that we will continue to use this channel to consider the artificial irritants in our relations. I believe this is a constructive and business-like approach. We will not be able to resolve all the problems in one sitting. This is absolutely clear. But the fact that there is a desire to move in this direction is a positive sign. President Trump clearly confirmed his interest in building mutually beneficial, business-like and pragmatic relations, as well as to resolve the problems at hand. It is important that President Putin and President Trump are focused on achieving concrete results which will be tangible and allow us to overcome problems, including on the international agenda."

The following are reactions by Russian analysts and legislators to Lavrov's visit to Washington D.C. that generally emphasized the gradual recuperation of Russia-U.S. relations:

Lavrov with Kislyak meets Trump
Lavrov, accompanied by Russia's Ambassador to Washington Sergey Kislyak, meets Donald Trump at the White House (Source: Militarytimes.com)

Pushkov's Tweet Storm

Senator Alexey Pushkov (@Alexey_Pushkov) tweeted: "Trump has confirmed his intention to create a different type of relations with Russia than under Obama. Obama had itching problem: lecturing and pressuring. Trump is ready to 'act in a joint fashion.'"

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, May 10, 2017)

Pushkov on Trump-Lavrov meeting

(Source: Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, May 10, 2017)

Pushkov however, tweeted a warning: "The duality in the U.S. approach to Russia will remain: [U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki] Haley, [U.S. Secretary of Defense James] Mattis and others will play a hard line, Trump will be play the role of 'the good sheriff.'"

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, May 10, 2017)

(Source: Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, May 10, 2017)

Senator Kosachev: 'The Gradual Recovery Of Normal Russian-U.S. Relations Has Really Started'

Senator Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the Russian Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee: "Lavrov's visit to the U.S. as well as high working group meeting in New York, prior to that visit, prove that the gradual recovery of normal Russian-U.S. relations has really started, though this process will require a determined amount of time".

According to Kosachev, the symmetry in the meetings (i.e. Tillerson's meeting in Moscow with Lavrov and Putin, and Lavrov's meeting in Washington with Tillerson andTrump) is a very important sign, testifying that the "bilateral relations are being built on equal basis, without attempts to impose one's own position on the other side".

(Ria.ru, May 10, 2017)

Trump Lavrov
Trump with Lavrov (Source: facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167)

MP Slutsky: No One Expected An Immediate Warm Up In The Russia-U.S. Relations

The chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, underlined the importance of the current dialogue, since it enables to recover the relations from virtually level zero to the working and constrictive ones. Slutsky said: "No one expected an instant warming [of Russia-U.S. relations]. I've said frequently there is no magic switch [to improve them]. Having said that, the consistent conduct of a pragmatic dialogue on all key points on the international agenda provides hope for building constructive relations between Russia and the U.S., and, finally, finding a common ground."

(Ria.ru, May 10, 2017)

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Lavrov and Tillerson (Source: Mid.ru)

Senator Dzhabarov: The Decisive Meeting Will Be The One Between Putin And Trump At the G20

Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, the First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, said: "Trump comes from the world of business. Negotiating with him as well as building relations will be based on pragmatism". He then added that, though the meetings in Moscow and Washington were of important, "the key and decisive [moment] will be the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Hamburg in July at the G20 in the 'big two format'."

(Ria.ru, May 10, 2017)

Russian Analyst: Both Sides Attach High Importance To Bilateral Relations

Sergey Oznobishev, an analyst at the Center for Disarmament at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of International Relations, said that there are no examples in modern history where a U.S. president received a Russian FM. He said that last time a U.S. president met with a Russian minister was back in the Soviet era when Andrey Gromyko served as foreign minister.

Oznobishev said: "This is a high politics landmark, which demonstrates that the sides attach high importance to the bilateral relations."

(Gazeta.ru, May 10, 2017)

Russia's FM Spokesperson Zakharova Criticizes U.S. Journalists For Their Biased Questions During Lavrov's Press Conference

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova criticized the U.S. media for their biased questions, during Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's news conference following his talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump.

Zakharova said: "Most of the questions concerned Russia's alleged intervention in the U.S. election and the dismissal of the FBI director [See Appendix II] ... No serious arguments or jokes managed to stem the flow of questions from U.S. journalists, who looked unaware of how silly it was to ask the foreign minister of another country about the reasons for certain personnel changes in their own country... This indicates the colossal bias of the mass media, the lack of independent thinking and control by certain political groups... Bearing in mind their large-scale influence on the media space around the world this is our common problem... It is impossible to possess such powerful resources of influence on the public mind and at the same time to slide down to the intellectual zero."

(Tass.com, May 11, 2017)

Kommersant: If The U.S. Won't Return Russian Property, Moscow Will Take Measures, Warns Lavrov

The Russian daily Kommersant tackled the issue of Russian diplomatic property confiscated by the previous Obama administration, which is a critical topic for Moscow. The newspaper quoting diplomatic sources who asserts that if the issue is not solved at Trump-Putin's meeting upcoming meeting, then Russia will decide on reciprocal measures, as minister Lavrov actually hinted in his remarks. "For example, American state property which might be confiscated in Moscow: diplomatic resort in Serebryanyi Bor, the embassy's warehouse, the Anglo-American school building and the American ambassador's personal residence ", the source said.

(Kommersant.ru, May 10, 2017)

Kremlin Spokesperson Peskov: We Hope That The West's 'Russia obsession' Will Soon Blow Over

Discussing about the state of Russia-U.S. relations presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "This unmistakably emotional obsession - let us put it this way - with the so-called Russian factor, which is painstakingly kept afloat in the United States, is certainly regrettable. But on the other hand we realize that one has to be patient. This obsession will soon blow over. We do hope so."

(Tass.com, May 12, 2017)

Russian Presidential Aide Ushakov: 'We Expect From The Current [U.S.] Administration... Concrete Steps In The Context Of The Bilateral And International Agenda'

Russian Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov also mentioned that the crisis in Russia-U.S. relations was caused by Russophobic hysteria. Ushakov said:

"Naturally, we do not expect that all problems - and there are quite a few of them - will be resolved overnight, because Obama and his team have left the gravest legacy on the Russian track and clearing away these obstructions will be extremely difficult... [The current situation was aggravated] by conditions where the Russophobic hysteria, launched during the [U.S.] presidential election campaign, including insinuations about our alleged intervention in the election, keeps reverberating and harming the atmosphere of a dialogue. Sadly, this is a reality and it cannot be ignored. But, despite the difficulties stemming from the not simple internal political situation in the United States, the leaders of our countries are determined to tackle concrete tasks and achieve concrete results. It is quite obvious that quite a few acute issues have been accumulated in the world and it is hard or even impossible to resolve them without pro-active interaction between Russia and the United States."

He then added: "Russia is open for dialogue with the United States in various spheres, including Syria and any other areas where our interests meet or can meet. Evidently, it is possible to reach results and improve the atmosphere of our relations only on the basis of fundamental principles of equality and mutual respect to each other’s interests. We expect the current [U.S.] administration to demonstrate its practical readiness to begin to look for solutions of the existing problems that emerged not through our fault. We expect concrete steps in the context of the bilateral and international agenda."

Ushakov: 'The improvement Of... Bilateral Relations... Depends On Removing Numerous Irritants Created By Washington... We Expect To Get Back The Russian Diplomatic Property Illegally Seized From Us'

Concerning Lavrov's visit, Ushakov said that it "demonstrated in general that despite the problems inherited from the past, we have a lot of possibilities for joint work." He then added: "Obviously, we have no over-expectations about the new [U.S.] administration, we a realistic about the state of affairs... [Putin] has been repeatedly pointing to direct interest in joint efforts with the Americans to improve bilateral relations. President Trump and his team are well aware of that... The visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Washington on May 10 continued a series of contacts with leadership of the new [U.S.] administration at different levels, which are being gradually built up and start getting a substantive content... Both sides have an understanding that serious efforts are needed for normalizing Russian-U.S. relations, which were destroyed by the previous [U.S] administration... No matter how certain forces in the U.S. establishment resist this, building up constructive cooperation between Moscow and Washington meets long-term interests of our countries and most importantly, the tasks of ensuring security and stability in the world... The improvement of the atmosphere of bilateral relations largely depends on removing numerous irritants created by Washington in recent years. In particular, we expect to get back the Russian diplomatic property illegally seized from us at the New Year by the previous U.S. administration. We did not immediately start to respond to these actions but the principle of reciprocity in diplomacy is valid... We are showing patience and balance but this patience is, of course, not unlimited... Americans, as Minister Lavrov reported after the talk [with U.S. President Donald Trump], are looking for preliminary solutions and we’ll see which option the Americans will offer and what they are ready for. Naturally, we expect specific steps from the new U.S. administration."

(Tass.com, May 12, 2017)

Zakharova: '[The U.S. Media] Are So Incredibly Miserable In Their Servile Russophobia.'

On the day after Lavrov's visit, Trump received Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin at the White House. The Ukrainian embassy in Washington D.C. reported that the sides discussed "further efforts to support Ukraine." The Embassy's statement read: "The interlocutors discussed in detail the situation in Donbas. Pavlo Klimkin thanked the U.S. Administration for its unwavering position of in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and in countering Russian aggression." The photos of the meeting were distributed to U.S. media outlets.

Russian FM Spokesperson Zakharova noted that several U.S. media outlets were outraged by the fact that the photos taken during the Lavrov-Trump meeting at the White were distributed by Russia, however, no one got outraged in the case of Ukraine. Zakharova wrote: "It's about 24 hours that the U.S. media is hysterical regarding publication by the Russian side of Lavrov-Trump's meeting photos. They even refuse to republish the photos since the photos are from a non-American origin. It's a completely different situation with Klimkin: he's been forgiven his contact with the presidential table, while the Ukrainian embassy was fully credited as the source of the footage. They [the U.S. media] are so incredibly miserable in their servile Russophobia."

(Usa.mfa.gov.ua, May 11, 2017; Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167?fref=nf, May 11, 2017)

Zakharova Ukraine
(Source: Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167?fref=nf, May 11, 2017)

Concerning the debate of the photos distributed by Russia, TASS photographer Alexandr Scherbak, who covered the Lavrov-Trump meeting wrote on his Facebook: "I would like to address the U.S. media. Honestly, this is nonsense to me. I am an individual who is not in the public eye and I’ve never commented on my work before but this hysteria around my photo-shoot at the White House has forced me to write this post.

"I’ve worked for the minister’s press pool since 2015 and I am often invited to cover trips and meetings of Foreign Minister Lavrov together with my colleagues....

"There was nothing unusual about the photo-shoot with Trump and Lavrov. Everything was typical. After the meeting with Tillerson I was taken by a U.S. representative to the White House. I was scanned, patted down, and then sniffed by canines. Then I was waiting for the arrival of our delegation in a room in the White House. I was introduced to a female photographer who works there and was told to stay by her side as she knows all the protocol details. I took only two cameras to the photo-shoot, I left all my stuff, including my cellphone, in another room as I was told to do.

"The photo-shoot was usual, with the delegations exchanging handshakes, a verbal exchange, and then the meeting began. We worked for just a minute and that’s all. I left the Oval Office and returned to the room where I was staying. When the meeting was over, we went to the Russian embassy for a news conference. And then we took off. I am urging U.S. journalists not to lose their professional dignity and not to pin the blame on other people for their failure in organizing the photo-shoot and the failure to provide access to their media. I have worked as a professional photo correspondent for many years and I am facing such absurd and ludicrous charges for the first time."

(Facebook.com/ascherbak, May 11, 2017)

Scherbak's message was reposted by Zakharova in her Facebook page.


(Source: Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167?fref=nf, May 11, 2017)

Appendix I – Excerpts - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Interview With Mir Interstate Television And Radio Broadcasting Company – Mid.ru, May 10, 2017

Sergey Lavrov
Lavrov (Source: Mid.ru)

Lavrov: 'Trump Expressed Willingness To Continue Our Efforts To Progress In The Issues Of Mutual Interest'

Question: "The main intrigue during the last few months is about a meeting between the presidents of Russia and the United States. It is more than 100 days since the US presidential elections, but there is no information concerning a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. What can you say about this and what does Moscow expect from such talks, if they do take place?"

Sergey Lavrov: "There is no doubt that any such meeting between the leaders is very important for the establishment primarily of personal relations. Later on, this always helps to iron out issues that the presidents discuss. However, I wouldn't say that this is the main intrigue. Contacts – by telephone, if not face-to-face – have been established. There were three telephone conversations between President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation and President Donald Trump of the United States of America. They were highly charged, concrete, devoid of artificiality, and aimed at promoting our relations in the interests of both countries and the world community as a whole. In this connection, the focus was on the Syria crisis. Ahead of the Astana meeting, U.S. President Donald Trump was informed by Russian President Vladimir Putin about how we saw further progress. This echoes the initiatives proposed by the United States earlier this year to create a safer environment for civilians and stop violence in areas plunged into fierce hostilities between the Syrian government and the armed opposition. It is not accidental that the United States welcomed the Astana meeting and the drafting of a document on the de-escalation zones.

"The United States and we do not need the meeting to produce an external effect on someone or to talk about a sensation. Russia and the United States are convinced that meetings between leaders are important not only as an occasion to shake hands but also to understand what the parties think about relations with each other and international problems. Our countries have so much influence on international stability and security that this meeting will be expected to produce concrete results. With this in view, we have been actively preparing it."

Question: "After the air attack on Shayrat Airbase, we discontinued all contacts with the U.S. side, including military contacts. Can we say that we have reverted back to where we were before the strike took place?"

Sergey Lavrov: "Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu commented on this the other day. It would be highly unethical for me to intervene in this sphere. He said that in effect the contacts between our countries had never been broken off, and if they had, the initiative had not been ours."

Question: "After US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Moscow, his talks with President Putin and with you, Mr. Tillerson said that no actual progress had been made in Moscow. Following 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency, it was announced that the main goal was to isolate Russia within the UN and that the goal was supposedly achieved. What do you think that means? Is it true? Why are such statements being made?"

Sergey Lavrov: "It is very difficult to answer the question why such contradictory statements are being made by different representatives of the Trump administration. Perhaps, they haven't got accustomed to working together yet? We should primarily consider what President Trump says. He expressed a high opinion of State Secretary Tillerson's visit to Moscow and his own recent telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Trump expressed willingness to continue our efforts to progress in the issues of mutual interest. This is what we consider first and foremost."

Lavrov: 'NATO Members... See Russia As An Opponent And A Threat'

Question: "The CSTO [The Collective Security Treaty Organization] is a military and political alliance often compared to NATO. Do you think the comparison is reasonable?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I don't think it is completely reasonable. The CSTO Development Strategy does not say that any country, state or organization is our enemy. NATO members, on the contrary, see Russia as an opponent and a threat. They try to make light of the status and significance of CSTO's actions in every way. "They are very reluctant and hesitant in their contacts with us. You can see it is difficult for them to understand that the CSTO is also an international organization recognized by the UN, an observer in the UN General Assembly, an organization recognized by the OSCE, and a participant of OSCE meetings. I think the arrogance typical of NATO is not helping anyone. We have repeatedly suggested uniting the efforts of our organization and the North Atlantic Alliance in order to fight terrorism more successfully, including the escalating terrorism in Afghanistan. It is to a considerable degree fuelled by drug trafficking, the scale of which has expanded multiple times over the period of the NATO operation since the well-known events in 2001.

"We had joint projects with NATO, including on counterterrorism methods, development of special devices for remote detection of explosives, which is crucial for ensuring public security during mass events and in the metro. There were extensive programs to suppress drug trafficking from Afghanistan, to train personnel and provide maintenance to the helicopters which Russia supplied and continues to supply to Afghanistan, and much more. NATO rejected all those proposals. They struck an attitude after they supported the coup in Ukraine. We, on the other hand, provided support to the residents of southeastern Ukraine and Crimea who refused to accept the coup outcome. After they refused to accept the coup, the new officials, putschists, unleashed a war against their own people.

"When we condemned it and took the decisions we were forced to take, NATO members got very upset that their project to consume entire Ukraine and subject it to the Alliance's influence went up in flames, as did their plan to include Crimea in their tactic of surrounding Russia with military facilities. Due to their distress over this objective historic fact, they suspended all initiatives that we had in common, including counterterrorism efforts. Now, as they are very reluctantly overcoming the resistance of the 'aggressive minority' in the EU, there are attempts to resume dialogue with us. But we are only ready to speak with them on terms of equality, mutual respect for each other's interests and a balance of these interests. We are ready to discuss the mutually acceptable agenda rather than the issues that NATO sees as more urgent than anyone else."

(Mid.ru, May 10, 2017)

APPENDIX II - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions following talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Washington DC, May 10, 2017

Lavrov: 'Trump Clearly Confirmed His Interest In Building Mutually Beneficial, Business-Like And Pragmatic Relations'

Sergey Lavrov: "Today I had a bilateral meeting with State Secretary Rex Tillerson at the U.S. State Department, and then we both had a meeting with President Trump.

"We focused on our interaction in the international arena. It was confirmed that, despite all the known difficulties, our countries can and should join efforts to address key issues of the international agenda.

"We spoke in detail about Syria, including in the context of the recently formulated ideas about creating de-escalation zones. We share an understanding that they should represent a step towards ending the violence throughout Syria which will help us resolve humanitarian issues and create a solid foundation for moving towards a political settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

"We agreed to continue to work together within the Astana format, where the United States is an observer. We highly value the constructive input of the United States during the recent meeting. We will also cooperate within the Geneva process, which, according to Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General Staffan de Mistura, should resume as early as next week. We look forward to the Syrian government and all the opposition groups acting in a constructive manner.

"We also covered other issues that the international community is facing, where, together with the United States and other actors, we can play a positive role. In this context, we mentioned the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, the situation in Afghanistan, and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements regarding the Ukrainian settlement. We agreed to maintain working contacts on these issues, and to seek ways to narrow the gaps between the positions of all stakeholders.

"We discussed the state of our bilateral relations, which is not encouraging. We are well aware why relations are where they are now. Unfortunately, previous U.S. administration did everything to undermine the foundations of our relations. Now, we have to work almost from the ground up. We perfectly understand that Russian and U.S. citizens want to live in peace and be able to interact normally. I think that the politicians should make sure that all artificial obstacles that lie in our way should be removed.

"Secretary of State Tillerson and I discussed the outcome of the meeting of our deputies, who reviewed the state of our bilateral relations in New York the day before yesterday. Clearly, they did not resolve all the problems. I would even say that the progress is fairly modest. We agreed that we will continue to use this channel to consider the artificial irritants in our relations. I believe this is a constructive and business-like approach. We will not be able to resolve all the problems in one sitting. This is absolutely clear. But the fact that there is a desire to move in this direction is a positive sign. President Trump clearly confirmed his interest in building mutually beneficial, business-like and pragmatic relations, as well as to resolve the problems at hand. It is important that President Putin and President Trump are focused on achieving concrete results which will be tangible and allow us to overcome problems, including on the international agenda.

Question: "Was the issue of sanctions discussed, in particular, restoring access to the Russian state property in Washington DC and New York? What will the response be if the situation remains unresolved by the U.S. side?"

Sergey Lavrov: "Sanctions are a unilateral action against us, and so resolving that is not our problem. The issue of state property holds a special place in our talks. Property rights are affirmed by legal documents issued in the U.S. The Obama Administration in its last days in power resorted to petty actions against both our property and our diplomats who were ordered to leave the United States within twenty-four hours. Everyone, in particular the Trump Administration, is aware that those actions were illegal. When those decisions were announced, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said that we are completely entitled to respond reciprocally. The U.S. side knows what that would look like. Yet we are not going to follow those who are trying to destroy our relations. Our U.S. colleagues know about our stance. I hope we will be able to resolve the situation without our relations deteriorating."

Lavrov: 'We Hope That The U.S. Will Be Able To Make Its Contribution To Security And Humanitarian Issues [In Syria]'

Question: "When discussing Syria, did you speak about a political settlement in that country? Which role do you think Bashar al-Assad will play? How does your point of view differ from the U.S.? What progress have you achieved on that after a month of discussion?

"There is a lot of focus in the United States on U.S. President Donald Trump's possible contacts with Russian representatives during his election campaign, there was some misunderstanding. Are there any changes in bilateral relations?"

Sergey Lavrov: "Regarding the talk and clamor around our relations, fictional narratives about us allegedly controlling their domestic politics.

"Of course, we notice the absolutely abnormal background against which relations are developing. I think it is demeaning for the American people to hear that the Russian Federation controls domestic politics in the U.S. I believe that politicians severely damage the U.S. political system when they try to act like America is being governed externally.

"As to Syria, we first of all focused on the ideas that had been discussed during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Moscow when he shared his thoughts regarding de-escalation and safety. This was the initiative U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned during his telephone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State Tillerson later presented it in more detail in Moscow. The initiative is now being materialized in agreements concluded in Astana, where four de-escalation zones were proposed, including in the south, since the U.S. is particularly interested in stabilizing the situation on Syria's borders with Jordan and Israel. We are ready to cooperate on the issue.

"Today, we discussed particular means and mechanisms that we could manage together. Apparently, the political process is quite important. We are confident that we cannot put things on hold for long. For that reason we welcome the decision by the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura, to resume the Geneva talks in mid-May, in a few days. As I have already mentioned, we expect that the framework in which the process is developing will be acceptable for the Syrian Government and all the opposition groups, and that the talks will engage all four 'baskets' outlined by Mr. de Mistura: governing the country, preparing a new constitution, preparing new elections and fighting terrorism."

Question: The recent Pentagon statement about 'the devil being in the details' regarding the creation of de-escalation zones is not entirely clear on the part of the U'S. Who will ensure safety in those areas and how will the project work overall? Do you think the United States is doing enough on this?"

Sergey Lavrov: "The fact that 'the devil is always in the details' is a truth that everyone recognizes. At the current stage there is agreement both conceptually and with respect to the geographical parameters of de-escalation zones. The Memorandum signed in Astana has proscribed further steps as to how the stakeholders will ensure safety belts around the de-escalation zones. It is in our interest for the U.S. to actively engage on these issues. We think that is also in the U.S. interest, at least concerning the southern de-escalation zone. We proceed from the assumption that they will play an initiating role in this process. We hope that the U.S. will be able to make its contribution to security and humanitarian issues, to supporting the ceasefire regime in other territories where problems remain."

Lavrov: 'The Dialogue Between Russia And The U.S. Is Now Free From The Ideology That Characterized It Under The Barack Obama Administration'

Question: "Much has happened in international relations since Donald Trump's inauguration. Can you say that the way the U.S. and Russia speak to each other has changed, especially after a missile strike on Syria?"

Sergey Lavrov: "The dialogue between Russia and the U.S. is now free from the ideology that characterized it under the Barack Obama Administration. U.S. President Donald Trump, his Administration, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are the kind of people who want to maintain a dialogue not as a means of demonstrating what they can achieve in the area of ideological preferences, but rather as a means of solving particular issues which have great bearing on the nation's progress, peoples' well-being and settling conflicts in different areas."

Question: "Did US President Donald Trump during your meeting raise the issue of U.S. concerns over Russia's interference in the US election?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I have already answered this question. We are watching what is going on here in relation to Russia and its allegedly 'decisive role' in your domestic politics. I spoke about concrete things with Donald Trump. None of us touched on that bacchanalia."

Question: "U.S. intelligence agencies accuse Russia of interfering in the election. U.S. President Donald Trump says it is not true. Did he give you any assurances that he does not believe Russia somehow interfered in the election campaign?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I thought we were all grow-ups here. I never thought I would have to answer such questions, especially in the U.S., with your deeply rooted democratic political system.

"President Trump said publicly a number of times what he thought about the allegations that we supposedly interfered in your domestic affairs. His public statements are sufficient for me. There is no need to tell us about this in private, secretly. We know Donald Trump's position and that of those who try to prove otherwise. The problem is that nobody has ever uncovered a single fact, a single shred of evidence. And if you cover international affairs and life in your country, try to find out, as journalists, where those facts are."

Question: "You have just learnt that FBI director James Comey was fired. Considering the accusations made by the FBI against your country, were you happy to hear that news?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I'm not the one you should be asking. I can give you examples of people being hired and fired in Russia, France, Great Britain. These are internal matters for you."

Question: "Did you discuss a possible meeting between President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump? When can it be held, in July or earlier?"

Sergey Lavrov: "The presidents reaffirmed during their recent telephone conversation that they would meet on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Germany in the first 10 days of July. During my meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today, we discussed what we can do to make progress on the issues I have mentioned, including Syria, so that practical results would be achieved at this meeting. At any rate, the presidents will meet in July."

Question: "Can you tell us more about your meeting with US President Donald Trump and your relationship with him? How can the fact that President Trump is a businessman help Russia have a better relationship with him than it had with the Obama administration? Has he made any promises on this score?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I have already answered this question. It is always better for relations when people do business rather than try to promote their ideological preferences or engage in propaganda. This forms the basis for our expectations."

Lavrov: 'We Do Not Have An Exit Strategy [In Syria]'

Question: "What is Russia's exit strategy in Syria?"

Sergey Lavrov: "We don't have an exit strategy. All of us must fulfill our agreements, as UN Security Council resolutions say. Agreements must be honored and terrorism must be rooted out in Syria, which must not become a seat of extremism and instability as it happened in Iraq and Libya.

"Someone asked me about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In Iraq and Libya, the international community did its utmost to overthrow Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. We can see what this has resulted in. As regards the settlement of the Syrian crisis, let us draw conclusions from our past mistakes and opt not for replacing the leader but for rooting out the evil of terrorism. President Donald Trump has reaffirmed today that the main goal for the United States in Syria is to defeat terrorism. We fully agree on this. "

Question: "What can you say about the allegation that Russia is supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan?"

Sergey Lavrov: "We have asked for evidence of this more than once. Those who study Afghanistan have a full view of the developments there. No serious analyst will try to score points by claiming that Russia is supplying weapons to the Taliban.

"We do work with the Taliban in order to implement the UN Security Council decision proposed by the Afghan government, according to which the Taliban will be made part of the political process if they recognize the current constitution of Afghanistan, renounce violence and sever all ties with terrorists. "This is the only basis for working with the Taliban. The Afghan government is willing to come to an agreement with them on this basis. The Taliban are part of the Afghan people. It is difficult to imagine that the conflict can be settled without them, especially considering the devastation left there by the 10-year-long deployment of the NATO forces, which have not resolved a single problem but have only aggravated the terrorist threat by failing to prevent ISIS from entering Afghanistan, where ISIS did not operate before, and the more than tenfold increase in drug production. There are many problems. All Afghans must be united on the basis of the conditions I have mentioned."

Question: "Is it true that during your meeting President Trump did not mention Russia's alleged interference in U.S. elections last year? Did you discuss this issue at all?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I have just answered this question. U.S. President Donald Trump has said in public that this is not true. Give us at least one fact, and we will be able to react. We are told openly that everyone knows everything. This has been going on for months yet not a single fact has been provided, including in the Senate, which has created special commissions to deal with this issue. That's not serious."

Question: "You have mentioned Russia's interest in US involvement in the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria. Can you provide more details on this? Did President Trump or Secretary Tillerson say that the United States would cooperate with Russia, one way or another, to create these zones?"

Sergey Lavrov: "To begin with, the idea was initiated by U.S. officials – President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. We used the Astana venue to promote its practical implementation. We will welcome any U.S. contribution. This issue must be entrusted to those who are dealing with the situation on the ground professionally, and who have the information. We can facilitate this process both in Astana and in Geneva. We have reached an agreement that we, as active participants in the common efforts towards a Syrian settlement, should maintain these contacts with the other key players, primarily regional countries.

"Thank you. We must leave for Alaska now."

Appendix III - Reply by Lavrov To A Media Question During Protocol Filming Before The Start Of Talks With U.S. Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson, Washington – Mid.ru, May 10, 2017

Question: "Has the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey cast a shadow over your talks?"

Sergey Lavrov: "What? He’s been fired? You must be kidding!"

(Mid.ru, May 10, 2017)

 

 

 

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6910, Memorandum On The Creation Of De-Escalation Areas In Syria, May 7, 2017.

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