Geneva Press Conference by Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov / Photo: John Currie
Press Briefing With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
March 6, 2009
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good evening. Foreign Minister Lavrov and I just finished our first in-person meeting over a wonderful meal together, and I am pleased by the opportunity that we had to begin a discussion on resetting U.S.-Russian relations, a process that we know will take time, but I think we had a very productive meeting of the minds on the range of issues that we will be addressing.
From our side, I think it’s fair to say that we are hopeful that this first meeting will lead to others and improve our ability to work together on a range of matters that are significant not only to each of our countries, but to the world. Our two nations share a common interest in working constructively in areas of mutual concern, from arms control and nonproliferation to counter-piracy and counternarcotics, to Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea. We discussed a number of specific issues that we believe it is important for us to work together to make progress.
There is no time to waste on a number of these significant challenges, so we will begin working immediately to translate our words into deeds. In particular, we discussed at some length our top priorities, including the negotiation of a follow-on agreement to the START treaty, and broader areas of cooperation to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and prevent further proliferation.
We talked about new ways to strengthen our cooperation in Afghanistan. And we expressed appreciation for Russia’s decision last month to allow the transit of non-lethal goods to troops in Afghanistan. Both of our countries, along with the rest of the world, are facing an economic crisis. Our two presidents will be attending the G-20 summit in London, and that will be the occasion for a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting between our presidents. President Obama is looking forward to exploring with President Medvedev the range of issues that we discussed and teed up.
We had frank exchanges about areas where we still disagree. We need more trust, predictability, and progress that only comes from working together. Georgia is one of those issues. We talked about ways that we could reduce the violence and make progress in the Geneva process. And we engaged on the importance of strong civil societies and the rule of law, of the role of NGOs, the ties that can be strengthened and deepened between our two peoples. I appreciated greatly the openness and willingness that Minister Lavrov had to discuss any and all issues. Nothing was off the table.
We also engaged in determining how to move forward with bilateral and multilateral mechanisms, including the restart of the NATO-Russia Council, not just as a vehicle for discussing shared interests, but also for addressing our differences. Our agenda tonight was broad, but this is just the beginning. It was, Sergey, a good beginning from my perspective. And we will continue to work closely together in the coming months. There is a lot of work to be done. We think that this is a fresh start not only to improve our bilateral relationship, but to lead the world in important areas, particularly with respect to nuclear weapons and nuclear security.
I deeply believe that improved relations between our two countries will advance the common good and will help us secure a safer, more prosperous, more peaceful future. Those who have traveled with me know that this is all about, for me, the future of our children – what kind of opportunities they have. It is incumbent upon people who hold positions like Minister Lavrov and I do that we exert our best efforts to make sure that we’ve done all we can to provide the future that Russian, American, and all children deserve to have.
So again, thank you very, very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Dear colleagues, first of all, I would like to thank the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton for this meeting. A separate thanks go for this wonderful dinner. And I believe that I would share everything that’s just been said by the Secretary of State.
In addition, I can say that we have already managed to achieve a specific, practical result. We reached an agreement regarding how (inaudible) should sound both in Russian and English. We have no differences (inaudible) anymore. And I am confident that would contribute to the interaction between our two peoples and contribution to the advancement of English in Russia, and of Russian into United States of America.
As Hillary Clinton just mentioned, we discussed in detail practically all issues on our agenda, starting with bilateral relations and, of course, including our cooperation on the international arena. And all of this was done within the context of the preparations for the first personal contact between our two presidents which is scheduled on the fringes of the G-20 summit in London.
We have exchanged our views on priorities for the next foreseeable future for our two countries, and I am confident that the Secretary of State would share my opinion that, by and large, they coincide – our priorities, I mean. Each party describes their outlook and shades of opinion. We did not agree on everything, of course, but we agreed to work on every issue, including where we differ, in a partnership manner and openly.
We identified the readiness of the both sides to prepare to work in such a way – our bilateral relations today acquire a special importance and another chance which we cannot (inaudible) now in the interests of our both peoples, people of the United States and people of the Russian Federation. And we feel our responsibility for the state of affairs globally.
As I’ve mentioned, we paid a great deal of attention to the preparation of the meeting between our two presidents in London, and of course, we discussed specifically the hot spots in our relations, I would say. We discussed how would we arrange our work to clear up the vestiges of the past in our relations so that a constructive element would dominate and purposeful partnership interaction would prevail. Special attention was paid to nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destructions – destruction, strategic offensive and defensive weapons as well. I think we can manage to arrive at a common view both in the context of strategic offensive weapons and the missile defenses. We understand the readiness of the U.S. side to take into account our mutual interests. We have also considered the nonproliferation developments related to nuclear weapons, including in the context of Iran, Korean Peninsula. I am confident that in the near future we will try and arrive at some agreements, some results which would enable us to bring closer political and diplomatic solution to such things within the frameworks of the existing political and diplomatic channels and formats. We have noted the special importance of the Nonproliferation Treaty and agreed to interact in the context of the forthcoming (inaudible) conference in 2010.
We also remembered that some time ago, on the initiative of Russia and the United States, the Security Council adopted an important resolution on prevention of nuclear weapons and materials finding their ways into the hands of nongovernment entities. We agreed that that would be our common initiative and will continue to be of special importance and priority for us. We will continue our bilateral steps to strengthen this regime within the Security Council. We have launched a number of common initiatives which still valued, are dealing with threat of nuclear terrorism. We have specific agreements here on how do we jointly work towards a more consolidated position of the global community. We’ve discussed the initiative of the President Medvedev on the Euro-Atlantic initiative in terms of security. And we are looking forward to specific, pragmatic consultations at the expert level with the United States and with all the countries on – within the Euro-Atlantic space.
In Middle East settlement, here we are all members of the Quartet of intermediaries. We consider it our common goal to stabilize the situation. In Afghanistan, we have an interest in the practical cooperation in this area, and I am confident that here we will develop new areas of cooperation. We agreed to facilitate the successful conclusion of the conference in Moscow under the Shanghai security organization devoted to the threats of drugs and terrorists originating in Afghanistan. And we will facilitate a successful conduct of yet another conference on the initiative of United States in late March in Europe somewhere.
We have a common interest in reaching a new level of economic relations between our two countries. The numbers are quite impressive, but the results are far from being in tune with the capabilities of our both nations. Overall, I believe that in London our two presidents would make a strategic choice towards constructive relationship between the United States and Russia. An exchange of letters last month has taken place, and we are confident that it is consonant with the interests of both our peoples and of the world community. We have agreed on the schedule of our work for the future which we will be guided by, and we are looking forward to further contacts with Hillary Clinton and very much satisfied with today’s discussions. Thank you.
MR. WOOD: First question to Sylvie Lanteaume from Agence France Presse.
QUESTION: I have a question for both of you. Madame Secretary, did you agree with Foreign Minister Lavrov on any concrete step on resuming the START negotiations?
And Mr. Minister, do you think this dinner put the relationship with the U.S. on a better personal footing?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Sylvie, we spent a lot of our time talking about the follow-on work required regarding START, with the Nonproliferation Treaty, obligations that need to be keyed up for the preparatory conference next year. We agreed to a workplan. I think both Minister Lavrov and I are very work-oriented. We’re very practical. We want to make progress every day toward our shared commitments. We are going to create a very specific set of objectives and responsibilities. We hope to be in a position where we can present those to our two presidents before their meeting, so that they can then agree upon the instructions that should be provided to our negotiators.
There’s been some good preliminary work on START, and we intend to get fully immersed in that. We discussed some of the elements of what a new treaty would look like. The same on nonproliferation. As you heard the minister say, we have a deep concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We think both of our countries have the responsibility to lead in this important area. We are discussing a specific program of nuclear security leadership that we will also be working to present later to our presidents.
But a significant part of our meeting was taken up with what is the most serious threat facing humanity, and that is a potential nuclear weapon in the hands of an irresponsible actor. Both Russia and America know that we have to work together to try to prevent that.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) I agree with that entirely. But speaking of the addressed to me, I do hope Hillary would agree with me the question is quite easy to answer. I venture to say that we have a wonderful personal relationship.
MODERATOR: Russian news program (inaudible) correspondent, please.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary of State, first of all, thank you for the wonderful presents you gave to your Russian colleague. I’m sure the journalists here enjoyed it as well as he did. The question is the Russian word written on the button, there was a slight mistake; it means “overload.” (Laughter.) So do you believe there is an overload of problems in the relations between Russia and the United States? If so, which problems and issues could be solved first? And do you think that by pressing this button we will manage to start – to have a new start in the relations between our two countries?
And a follow-up on that to the Russian foreign minister. (Via interpreter) Have you pressed this button, and if you press it, how would you imagine the Russian-American relations after that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: You are correct. The minister corrected our word choice. In a way, the word that was on the button turns out to be also true. We are resetting, and because we are resetting the minister and I have an overload of work.
This is one of those instances where our commitment to pursue this reset relationship means that we have a very broad agenda. There are so many important matters before us. We each mentioned some of them. But we are going to systematically go through each and every one of them. Where we can agree, like our position on the START treaty and nonproliferation, we are prepared to get to work. Where we have more work to do about how exactly we will cooperate with respect to Afghanistan and what our options are vis-à-vis the Middle East and Iran, we’re going to be working through that. And where we have differences, we are keeping those on the list, because we think through closer cooperation and building trust in each other we can even tackle some of those differences. It is overload that we have come out of this dinner with, but it’s a responsibility that Sergey and I have taken on on behalf of our presidents and our countries.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) I agree that the load is enormous in terms of our agenda, but neither Hillary nor myself have no desire to get rid of anything of this load.
In addition to the problems, in addition to the joint initiatives that we are to advance, we have discussed a lot of practical projects aimed at ensuring the interests of our citizens, making their lives easy in terms of their contacts, on implementing different ideas in the cultural areas, the area of environmental protection, and many other things. And I believe that we will – would not make any easier the job for us by dropping any of the issues that were discussed today.
Today, our agenda is a full one, but do not compare us with the stone that Sisiphus was trying to get up the hill. And anyway, we will always manage to get that stone up the hill. Together with Hillary, we did press that button, as you’ve seen. It is a very, very large red button, and I do hope that both Russia and the United States and all other countries would never, ever push any other buttons associated with the initiation of destructive facilities. We will keep pushing the reset button of constructive interaction.
MR. WOOD: Next question to Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times.
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, both sides are fairly eager for better relations, but one source of concern for the U.S. side has been the sale of Russian S-300 missiles to Iran. Has your government decided to go ahead with those sales now?
And Madame Secretary, I’d like to ask you, the Russian Government – I mean, the British Government has apparently decided to begin some limited contacts with Hezbollah. I wonder if this is of concern to you, and if so, if you’ve communicated that to the British.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: Speaking of military technical cooperation with Iran, all the issues like issues of our interaction with any other country in this area are dealt with exclusively within the framework of a legal field in accordance with the Russian legislation dealing with the export controls, one of the most stringent ones in the world, and in accordance with our international commitments.
We supply our partners, first of all, non-destabilizing defensive types of weapons, and we want our partners to behave with equal restraint in their military supplies to the countries who quite recently used those weapons quite close to our borders.
In our military technical cooperation with Iran we haven’t violated anything. At the same, we fully and seriously take onboard concerns expressed by our partners from the United States and our partners from Israel. And I am confident that the road towards removing those concerns lies through the more active discussion of the proposals made by the P-5+1 group devoted to Iranian nuclear program (inaudible). In addition to serious, tangible economic stimuli, we need a dialogue with Iran with the involvement of all the countries in the region to ensure stable, reliable security where all countries there, including Israel, would live side to side – side by side in peace and security. That is a very complicated issue with lots of shades of opinions and positions, but we have a clear understanding that those issues are to be dealt with and must be dealt with. We will do so. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Paul, I can’t comment on your question. I don’t know any details. I know there was a press report which I just heard about after dinner tonight. We’re going to look into it and we may have something to say tomorrow, but I don’t have anything tonight.
MODERATOR: Next question goes to the Russian news agency Interfax.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) With your permission, I would like to revisit the issue of the strategic – the weapons. During the previous administration of the United States, the main issue why the United States and Russia couldn’t agree was that United States didn’t want to include into a new agreement the (inaudible) and the verification control mechanisms. Would you describe the position of the United States now? Are you prepared to do so, as Russia insists?
And a question to Sergey Viktorovich. After this meeting, you discussed the strategic offensive weapons. Will you manage by December 5th this year to reach a new agreement?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me first say that we did discuss verification. That is part of the agenda that we are prepared to discuss.
If I may just answer your last question, we intend to have an agreement by the end of the year. This is at the highest priority to our governments. I believe we will be instructed by both of our presidents to make sure we do have an agreement, and we’re going to get to work immediately.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) I fully subscribe to this statement. We will do everything to have this agreement reached. This treaty, the present treaty, has become obsolete. The limits in it have been implemented long ago, and staying within the boundaries of that treaty would mean that the United States will have to increase its strategic offensive weapons, sending a very bad signal to the rest of the world, especially on the – during the preparation for the review conference of the NPT treaty.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) What do you think about the situation in Kosovo (inaudible)? You’ve received the president of Kosovo in Washington. Is it (inaudible) NATO and Western allies to stay in Kosovo? Doesn’t it provide the situation?
And another question to Mr. Lavrov. When the Russia recognize the independence of Kosovo, because Kosovo is recognized by the majority of the European Union, including by (inaudible)? Thank you much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I did have a productive meeting with the leadership of Kosovo and congratulated them on their first year of independence. I think a lot of progress has been made, but there is still more to be done. We discussed yesterday at the NATO ministerial the necessity for the continuation of the KFOR mission at this time in Kosovo. But we will continue to work with the government and support them in their efforts to have a very pragmatic approach to many of the issues that are still facing them. The United States is pleased by the progress that they have made and look forward to working with Kosovo for additional progress in the future.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Well, Kosovo is indeed one of the issues where we, with United States, do not see eye-to-eye and we have quite serious differences. Russia has never tried to make these differences as a course for far-reaching conclusions which would negatively affect our relations in other areas. We believe – we consider that unilateral independence of Kosovo is illegal, and we have a query at Serbian International Court of Justice. Russia has its own opinion, and which will be used in the court procedures.
I believe that all those who do not recognize Kosovo do understand the danger of such a process – of such processes which are not related whatsoever to any logic – logical security of the Albanian population of Kosovo. After, in 1999, a resolution of the Security Council was adopted, has never been threatened. On the contrary, the suffering party was the minority in Kosovo. No threats to the Kosovar Albanians in the last eight or nine years were present, and against this ground declaring (inaudible) recognizing independence would not seem right.
We do hope that – we did hope that this situation would not lead to a new way for violence in the Balkans. And new attempts to (inaudible) the fragment of this state, we have no interest in that. What we want is to strengthen security in the Balkans with the interests of all peoples living there taken into account, and of course, in – with the account of the international law. The initiative by President Medvedev on the new Euro-Atlantic security treaty also envisages consideration of criteria for the settlement of conflict in that region. A single standard would be quite appropriate here.
MODERATOR: I am afraid we’re approaching the last question, and it goes to the broadcasting corporation, Voice of Russia, please.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) A question to the Secretary of State Clinton. When could we expect the re-launching of direct discussions – negotiations between the United States and Iran? And how would it go in – hand-in-hand with further sanctions against Iran established by the United States?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We discussed Iran at length tonight. As we explained, we are currently conducting a very broad-based policy review as to the potential steps that can be taken to try to dissuade or prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, work for the end of Iran’s support of terrorism directly and through proxies, like Hamas and Hezbollah. We certainly would be very welcoming of any advice that Russia has about ideas that should be considered. Obviously, along with any new approaches are ones that we think are important to continue, namely sanctions, both unilateral and multilateral.
But we are not yet ready to discuss some of the options that we are going to adopt. We think it is significant that there is a great deal of interest, as evidenced tonight with our discussion with Minister Lavrov and with everybody I spoke with in the last week – from Sharm el-Sheikh, to Jerusalem, to Ramallah, to Brussels – about the real challenge that Iran poses in the region and beyond. We hope to have a lot of unity with respect to some of the steps that we are going to be recommending, and I look forward to discussing this further with Sergey.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) A couple words only. We very much appreciate that the President Obama’s Administration, in the course of a comprehensive review of the Iranian policy, is prepared to listen to other countries, including Russia. Our opinion, our view as to how we would see our behavior in this area was presented today, and we are hopeful that the discussion will continue. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.