On Syria and Libya


Question: Today, Clinton stated that the US considered it necessary to step up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  How can you comment on this?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: No one is happy when in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as in all other states there are disturbing developments, with blood being shed, people being killed and force being used, regardless of who does it — government or opposition.  We are concerned that the processes of national reconciliation and the start of dialogue advocated by all the healthy forces in Syria, including the Syrian leadership, are being impeded by the desire of some groups to draw external forces into the conflict in support of their actions.  The calculation is that foreign players will get imbued with this problem and will not only condemn the violence there, but subsequently repeat the Libyan scenario, including the use of force.

Much to our regret, the Libyan situation has become a temptation for many of the opposition to create similar conditions in the region, hoping that Western countries will not remain on the sidelines and will intervene in the conflict in favor of one of the parties.  This is an alarming prospect.  I hope this won’t happen.

It is important that the Syrian authorities address all emerging problems within the country only through dialogue and the search for national consensus involving all political forces in the process of national reconciliation.

On the other hand, the time is ripe and even overripe for reform in most of these countries.  We are talking about socio-economic and political reforms.  People want democratic change, of course, given the specificity of each country.  These processes are completely objective; they can’t be artificially delayed, as this will only aggravate the situation.  On the other hand, the opposition must also act responsibly and not try to draw foreign players in, so they put pressure or use force on the side of one of the participants in the internal conflict.

We do not want the Libya scenario repeated, not to mention the fact that the situation in Libya itself must be set on a political footing as swiftly as possible.  We’re witnessing a large number of violations of the resolutions of the UN Security Council.  Over the last few days, there have been reports of the NATO air force bombing civilian targets, including hospitals and a burns center, which was almost completely destroyed: collapsed floors, broken windows.  Russian Embassy officials visited it.  Ukrainian doctors are working there.  Our diplomats are trying to assist them.  The same holds true for broadcasting corporation facilities.  Reports that there was damage to the DPRK embassy have been confirmed.

This is an unacceptable situation; the United Nations Security Council did not authorize any such thing.  Attempts to justify what’s happening by claiming that the coalition does not go beyond the mandate are insufficient.  In accordance with the adopted resolutions, the Security Council should receive reports on how they are being fulfilled and how the authorization to use force is being realized in practice.  Such reports are being presented; they are the subject of fastidious debate.

So far, in the opinion of Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa, the coalition’s responses to the questions raised cannot satisfy us.  Therefore, it is necessary to make expeditious use of the services of the UN Secretary General’s special envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib, and the mediation services of the African Union to encourage the parties to sit down at the negotiating table without preconditions.  Of course, this will be a new Libya, a new political system.  But it is necessary to seek agreement with those upon whom the prospects for calming the situation depend.

Attempts to multiply the Libyan experience in other countries of the region are very dangerous, whether it is Yemen, Syria or Bahrain — passions are seething practically everywhere.  It is necessary to exercise an utterly responsible approach which should be equally solicitous of the rights, liberties and security of civilians and which cannot ignore the problem of destabilization of this key geopolitical region.

Question: Can the coalition’s actions lead to a split in the UN Security Council?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The coalition must report to the Council.  The Contact Group is a self-organized structure, which has proclaimed itself a kind of mechanism responsible for the implementation of the resolutions.  From the viewpoint of international law this group has no legitimacy.  Legitimacy is solely in the hands of the UN Security Council, which has the exclusive power and authority to monitor the implementation of its decisions.  That the Contact Group lacks legitimacy, its participants understand themselves.  Recently French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe publicly stated the desire of the coalition to invite Russia to participate in this mechanism.  Apart from this statement in the press, I have not received any other signals from Paris.

We do not need to join this structure.  Russia is a member of the UN Security Council, we did not impede the adoption of resolution 1973, but we did not support it either, because, while sharing its goal of protecting civilians, we had serious doubts about the stated methods as sanctions on any state to address the task set.  Therefore, we abstained from voting.

I repeat: the resolution contains explicit provisions on reporting to the UN Security Council with respect to the humanitarian situation, including the impact of what is happening on the real situation of people and in regard to the interception of sea-going vessels and the consequences of the use of force.  The interception of such vessels is causing many questions.  There are examples where there were no timely reports of this.  After reminders the reports did come in, but in a number of cases it turned out that the civilian goods had been intercepted, and the reasons given for returning the vessel to the port of dispatch were often vague.  One of the most serious episodes was the case when a ship was not let through to Libya carrying the equipment needed to perform Libya’s obligations concerning chemical weapons destruction.  These obligations are internationally recognized, and the entire international community is interested in their fulfillment.  We also put this question to the coalition, but there has been no answer so far.

I would really like to see a comprehensive approach prevail without any compromises in respect of the main principle — to protect the civilian population.  This principle cannot be used to justify actions that are contrary to international law and contrary to the decisions of the UN Security Council.

The text above is an excerpt from “Transcript of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Interview to Russian Media Following Attendance at Arctic Council Meeting, Nuuk, May 12, 2011” published on the Web site of the Russian Foreign Ministry on 13 May 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.

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