TEHRAN – All the countries that influence the situation in Syria, including Iran, should participate in the upcoming peace conference in Switzerland, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told RT in an interview published on Tuesday.
He also said that there was a lot of hard work ahead to reach a final deal over Iran’s nuclear program.
Following are excerpts of the text of the interview:
RT: This year has been a landmark year for Russian diplomacy. What is your personal assessment of the arrangements on Syria and Iran? And what do you think are the prospects for the Geneva-2 talks?
Sergey Lavrov: These are very positive agreements, and I believe they were made possible by our joint efforts. This is further proof that initiatives can only be put into action by our joint and sincere efforts that ensure a balance of interests and are in line with international law. I wouldn't go as far as to say we've made a breakthrough this year in terms of Syria and Iran. First, the agreements to destroy the Syrian chemical arsenal and to convene the Geneva-2 conference, as well as the first stage agreement on further steps to resolve the Iran nuclear issue, are the fruit of years-long efforts. At least when it comes to Syria, we're talking about three years of Russia's consistent efforts of defending international law. The same applies to the progress on Iran. For over three years we'd been seeking two things: first, to get all the parties to the talks to agree that eventually Iran should have a recognized right to develop its peaceful nuclear program and enrich uranium to make fuel for nuclear power plants, while making sure that this program has no military dimension and that it is subject to total control of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)...
But it took a very long time for our Western partners to start reasoning this way, the way which is fair, comprehensive and takes into account the interests of the international community – Western countries, the region's and Iran's interests… So we have managed to reach this deal right at the end of the outgoing year. Another thing we have been advocating for years is the necessity to draw up some kind of a roadmap (the expression has become a buzzword now) since you can't resolve a conflict overnight. So we suggested moving forward step by step on the basis of reciprocity, which means Iran is to meet the demands set by the IAEA and supported by the UN Security Council, and the international community, in its turn, starts easing sanctions on Iran. It is supposed to continue until Iran has fully complied with all the requirements and that is the moment when all the sanctions will be lifted. For a few years, we have been advocating these two things: the so-called "endgame" — and the procedure of the dialogue, as well as promoting a political settlement in Syria.
So this breakthrough – if it was, indeed, a breakthrough – was the result of Russia’s long-term efforts and patience. When the Arab Spring began, Russia was said to be on the wrong side of history, to have lost the Arab street and the Middle East. Unfortunately, at the time our Western partners – and some of our partners in the region, by the way – weren’t looking for solutions that would help stabilize the situation and help the nations in the region to implement their right to a better life, but opted for information warfare tactics. I’m just stating the facts – that’s what was happening at that time, and up until the beginning of this year, but I admit that in the end our Western partners have come to important and wise decisions. So the breakthrough was the result of profound groundwork.
The second reservation about using the word ‘breakthrough’ has to do with the future. The decisions regarding Syria and Iran are far from being fully implemented. As for destroying Syria’s chemical stockpiles, everything is going according to plan, with minor deviations concerning the timeframe of the interim stages, though the reasons for that are objective rather than subjective. I am sure that the deadline for the complete destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, June 30, will be met.
As for Geneva-2, we still have a long way to go. We don’t know for sure that this conference will be successful… And as regards the Iranian nuclear program, we’ve only reached an agreement concerning the first phase. We have a detailed plan, and technical experts are currently working on a timeframe which very specifically describes all the steps that Iran and the international community will take reciprocally. But then we need to proceed to the second phase which also needs a detailed plan of mutual steps by both sides, until we reach a point which we may call final. So now we are at the intermediate stage. A lot has been done, but it’s still early to celebrate. There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us. So instead of celebrating we should be thinking how to bring these two extremely important processes to completion.
RT: Russia is often portrayed abroad as a country that tends to act rashly, even though Russia’s foreign policy is anything but rash. Would you say that Cold War cliches are still a major influence in international affairs today?
SL: I agree that attempts to portray our actions as rash and emotional have nothing to do with reality. This may be part of the information war I mentioned earlier. If you look at what we did with Syria and Iran, for example, you will get a totally different picture. We are always pragmatic and flexible. We never corner ourselves, like some did more than two years ago when they said that Assad was no longer legitimate and did not represent anyone. This was a hasty and emotional statement by some of the world leaders. How can you say that he doesn’t represent anybody while in reality he’s backed by a significant portion of the population, if not the majority, due to a number of reasons.
Patience is required to achieve success in international affairs, to resolve crises like the Syrian or the Iranian one. I’m sorry; it’s a bit of an exaggeration to call the situation around Iran a crisis. But I can also refer to the Middle East in general or the Israeli-Palestinian issue. We are promoting a pragmatic approach in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an approach that rules out any unexpected or unilateral steps that undermine confidence.
So there’s no haste in the decisions that Russia takes in its foreign policy and I hope our partners wouldn’t be tempted to resolve any issues overnight – otherwise it could be harmful.
RT: The issue of whether Iran should be invited to the Geneva-2 conference has been a stumbling block. The West continues to insist that Iran shouldn’t join. Do you think this conference can take place without Iran?
SL: The matter hasn’t been settled yet. If you look at the list of participants that is currently being negotiated, Iran has parentheses around it. We are convinced that all the countries that influence the situation should take part in the conference. In this case, it’s first and foremost all of Syria’s neighbors and other key players, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. These two countries are linked to a very serious threat. I am talking about the brewing conflict within Islam between the Sunni and the Shia. We can’t allow this to happen. By the way, there are tensions even inside Sunni Islam right now, and that’s very dangerous. That’s why Saudi Arabia and Iran should both be present at the conference. They will influence the situation anyway, so it would be much better to include them in the general discussion and have them listen to the opinions of all the participants - especially the Syrian government and the opposition - but also other countries supporting different parties to the conflict. Pretending that they have no influence would be non-pragmatic. That’s an ideologized approach that harms the process.
Some say that Iran is counterproductive and that it hasn’t signed last year’s Geneva communiqué, which is the basis for the Geneva-2 talks. But some of the countries whose participation in the conference the West does not oppose are not only in disagreement with the Geneva communiqué provisions, but are basically obstructing the convention of Geneva-2. Everyone is fully aware of that. So it’s obvious to us that Iran should participate in the conference, and in fact it is obvious to pretty much everyone else; the European countries are in favor of it, the Arab countries support it, and the UN secretary general and his special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi support it as well. The U.S. still has some reservations, but there’s some time left, and we’ll be discussing this matter further. After all, in the past, when the U.S. had its own problems to solve in Iraq or Afghanistan, Washington established direct contacts with Iran without a second thought - ideology or no ideology. So if this was possible when there were American interests involved, why not sit down to talk with Iran when it concerns Syria’s interests? When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, we had a 6+2 group – Afghanistan’s six neighbors plus Russia and the U.S. Iran was part of that group and proved capable of working in a multi-party format as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.