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A Conversation with Sergey Lavrov

Speaker: Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation
Presider: David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker
September 24, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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DAVID REMNICK:  We have today -- we have the great honor of meeting with the Russian foreign minister, whom you probably remember from his years in New York at the United Nations.  Sergey Lavrov has just come from a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, and I thought perhaps we should begin at the beginning --

MR.      :  (Off mike.)  (Laughter.)

REMNICK:  -- and ask about that meeting.  In the Washington Post's article describing or setting up this meeting, what we call a curtain raiser, a U.S. official described our relationship -- the United States' relationship with Russia -- as very rocky indeed.

Was this a rocky meeting?  And if so, why?

FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV:  Well, first of all, thank you for this opportunity to meet again with the members of the council.  Since I was a bit late because of the meeting with Secretary Rice, we decided that I wouldn't make any opening remarks, but I have them and we will leave them with the council for you to consider how to use them.

As to the meeting, I did not feel any rocky style.  Certainly a rocky style is not my style, and it was not secretary's approach to this meeting.  We discussed our relationship.  We, I believe, agreed that we have to be pragmatic.  We would never be able to agree on everything.  And of course we discussed the immediate things on which we disagree, the situation in the Caucasus.  But we, as I said, agreed that we must not make this situation a rock on which everything else would be hit.

And we considered our future areas of cooperation, including the issues related to nonproliferation.  And it's obvious that we have to get clarity.

And we -- I welcome the pragmatic mood of the secretary and the pragmatic mood of the discussion, as I welcomed the pragmatic attitude of President Bush yesterday when he spoke in the General Assembly and devoted most of his speech to the issues which are indeed important to the entire humanity, including Russia and the United States, like terrorism, like human trafficking, drug trafficking, proliferation.  All these demand collective effort.  All this is impossible to do without uniting all assets we all have, and the Russian-American cooperation is certainly a key to such worldwide endeavor.

So it is also -- it is also clear that pragmatism in our relations, after the very emotional reaction in the West -- and in the United States, in particular -- to the Russian action to stop the aggression of Georgia against South Ossetia, the action firmly rooted in the right for self-defense as enshrined in Article 51 of the charter.  Of course, this coming down of the situation between the two countries and coming back to the pragmatism, which always was a feature of the American policy and of the Russian policy of late, would take some time.

And I had already a chance to explain that you cannot really have -- you can't really have it both ways, punishing Russia by cancelling some of the meetings and some of the formats which are really important for the entire world, and at the same time demanding from Russia to cooperate on the issue which is of crucial importance to you in particular.

I already referred to the fact that we didn't understand the reasons why G-8 events have been, if not cancelled, but then indefinitely postponed, events which are so important because they were about nonproliferation working group, they were about working group of G-8 on counterterrorism, they were about foreign ministers meeting, which takes place annually in the margins of the General Assembly and which discusses Iran, North Korea, other proliferation risks, and conflicts like Middle East and Afghanistan, for example.

The meeting of G-8 ministers of agriculture also became a victim, though they were supposed to consider strategy on food security, which was one of the highlights of the Toyako G-8 summit.  So we have to understand, if the United States would have some sort of list of items on which it doesn't want to cooperate with us and another list on which it wants to cooperate with us, when we have this list, we would certainly understand better how we ourselves should proceed on this relationship.

We don't believe it's right to make the very important items on our agenda hostage to the emotions and to the feeling of being offended, though there should be no such feeling.  We acted, as I said, on the basis of international law.  We have been protecting the lives of the Russian peacekeepers who had been attacked by their Georgian comrades, because there was a joint peacekeeping force.  And when the Georgian army started this assault against the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, the Georgian peacekeepers, serving in one contingent with their Russian friends, joined the army and started killing the Russian comrades in arms.

So we could not -- we could not tolerate this.  And if all this talk about responsibility to protect is going to remain just talk, if all this talk about human security is going to be used only to initiate some pathetic debate in the United Nations and elsewhere, then we believe this is wrong.  So we exercised the human security maxim, we exercised the responsibility to protect, and did so in strict compliance with Article 51 of the charter.

So we discussed in particular today with Secretary Rice the situation on the Iranian nuclear program and the situation on nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula.  We believe that in both cases our overriding goals have not changed.  We want to resolve peacefully both situations.  We want to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and we want to establish that the Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful through the offices of IAEA.  These goals are unchanged, and it would be just irresponsible if, because of some disagreements on the Caucasus, our (country/countries ?) should drop these overriding goals.

As to the tactics on both issues, we never saw hundred percent eye to eye.  We always had some differences in tactical approaches.  But we have until now been able, on both these issues, find out common tactic by developing compromise approaches together also with other participants of the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula on the one hand and with the Europeans and China on the Iranian nuclear program.

And we reiterated that this is the case in this particular situation as well, and we will be continuing our discussions on these issues.  And we will also expect our American colleagues -- and others, but I believe it's first of all the Americans -- not to prevent the G-8 discussions on crucial issues for the entire humanity.

REMNICK:  Sergey Viktorovich, I don't need to recite all the events that led up to it, the various speeches, maneuvers, alliances and so on, but anybody that's looking at the U.S.-Russian relations in the last few years can probably be forgiven for being alarmed or at least very concerned about the direction of that relationship, at least seen from the outside.

You describe it as not rocky at all, and yet you see the concern in Russia about our relationship with Georgia.  You see ours about your friendship with Venezuela and elsewhere.  And we've seen in the press and elsewhere discussion of the possibility of a new form or renewal of a Cold War mentality on both sides.  And we've seen that in speeches given by Prime Minister Putin, President Medvedev, Dick Cheney, President Bush, a real hardening of language that was not there some years ago.  So you could say it's not rocky, but how would you describe it in Cold War terms?

LAVROV:  Well, I think you might have missed something because I don't remember what year was it when Vice President Cheney made his speech in Vilnius, Lithuania -- I think it was about three years ago, at least, when no Georgia was dividing anyone, except that everybody was trying to concentrate on the mechanisms of settlement of South Ossetian and Abkhazian crisis, which eventually was disrupted by Saakashvili -- but in that speech and in some other speeches during that period which wasn't considered rocky by anyone, there was some very harsh language from President (sic) Cheney to which we had to react.  I wouldn't want to recite this language, but it was -- it was absolutely identical to the Cold War language.  It was not our choice.  It is not our choice now.  And I don't recall any speech by President Putin or President Medvedev which would be an invitation to the Cold War.

If you refer to the Munich statement of President Putin, I think it was -- it was a very important call which went unanswered.  It was a call for beginning of an honest dialogue on why this year's -- the world security system is not working as intended.  He presented examples, which in our view indicated that the implementation of the agreements on the issues of what I would call hard security has been flawed.

We agreed in Russia-NATO Council, for example -- and this is the key issue for what we are discussing -- that security is indivisible and that no one should ensure his security at the expense of security of others.  It's a very straightforward statement endorsed, I think, in 2003 in -- (inaudible) -- when Russia-NATO Council Summit took place and a few months ago in Bucharest, when there was another Russia-NATO summit on April 6.

We have been trying to develop a common statement for the presidents of NATO countries and Russia to endorse, and this statement failed because the United States didn't want to pick up the language of five years ago and to say once again that no one would ensure his security at the expense of security of others.  It was a very telling position, the position of not being able to say that the U.S. is prepared to take into account security concerns of other countries in this Euro-Atlantic space.

And this was -- this refusal to reiterate this phrase was done, of course, against the background of missile defense, third positioning area in Europe; against the background of reluctance of our American friends to discuss seriously post-START-2 regime -- post-START-1 regime, because START-1 is expiring in December next year.  And the only thing the U.S. is prepared to leave instead of this is the logic of the Moscow Treaty, which only establish the limits for operational deployed nuclear warheads.

They still don't want to keep the limits on the delivery vehicles, on all sorts of delivery vehicles.  And we still cannot get a credible answer on what about the American plans to develop non-nuclear warheads, which would be placed on strategic launchers -- on strategic missiles and strategic delivery vehicles, which would create a huge difficulty for the -- for those who watch the strategic stability situation in real time.

So when we see this fact -- and of course, NATO expansion, which we were told would never happen when the Soviet Union was leaving in Eastern Europe -- then establishing American bases on the Black Sea in Romania and Bulgaria -- which we were, again, promised wouldn't be the case -- and when you take the condemnation of the effects being created on the ground, and of course the plans of the United States to put the -- or rather, the reluctance of the United States to agree that we shouldn't put weapons in outer space and the plans to put such weapons being deliberated in this country, and the doctrine of prompt global strike -- when you take this all in combo and against this background, you ask your American colleagues in Russia-NATO Council to say a simple thing which they were able to say five years ago -- let's say that no one would ensure his security at the expense of security of others -- and they say, no, we can live without this.  I mean, if our reaction to this by way of inviting everybody to discuss how we shall proceed from now on is considered as an invitation to the Cold War times, then I cannot agree with this.

REMNICK:  Do you feel that Russia's surrounded by enemies?  In mid-September, President Medvedev gave an interview to Izvestia, and he said that in fact Russia's surrounded by enemies.  (In Russian, then continues in English.)  Is that the case?

LAVROV:  I don't think he said so.  I just explained to you in details.  It was a very specific examples by what Russia is being surrounded:  third positioning area of American missile defense system, military bases in Bulgaria and Romania, the outer space plans, the plans --

REMNICK:  But does that -- does that --

LAVROV:  -- the plans to put new radars somewhere in the Baltic countries and some down south, similar plans on the eastern borders of Russia between the U.S. and Japan, missile defense projects.  That's what Russia is surrounded by.

We are not enemies with anyone, but the military planners just must take this into account when they take the measures to develop their own military defense capacity.  That's -- that is a statement of fact.  President Medvedev did not say that we are surrounded by enemies.

REMNICK:  I beg to differ.  But -- indeed he did, on 9/19, in Izvestia, but --

LAVROV:  Look, we believe -- I don't know how you to translate the English into Russian, the Russian into English -- (laughter) -- but the feeling of hostile policies --

REMNICK:  Accurately.

LAVROV:  -- hostile policies, indeed, is something which we feel sometimes.

REMNICK:  Okay.

Do you feel threatened by, overall, the phenomenon in last -- over the years of what's known as the color revolutions?

LAVROV:  We don't feel threatened by this phenomenon.  We believe that this is not right for a democracy to make revolutions the beacon of promoting democracy.

We tried it, you know, in 1917.  And you know -- (laughter) -- what came out of it.  And that revolution was red revolution, as you know.  And that's a color.  (Laughter.)

REMNICK:  But nobody accused it of being democratic, you know.

LAVROV:  Well, no.  If you think that a coup to overthrow the elected government is a coup everywhere, then you should remember how elections in Ukraine took place in 2004, how elections in Georgia took place in 2003, when the elections results have been torn and thrown away by revolutionary action.

I remember President Saakashvili storming the parliament and throwing away his teacher, President Shevardnadze, from the rostrum and saying, "I am -- I am the boss now."  And he was immediately recognized as president.  What's the difference between this and 1917?  (Laughter.)

REMNICK:  Did you feel --

LAVROV:  It wasn't Winter Palace, of course, it was a different building.  (Laughter.)

REMNICK:  The weather is better.  Did you feel that the Orange Revolution and the Rose Revolution were underwritten in some way by the West?

LAVROV:  I don't know.  I don't know.  I want -- I want to believe that noninterference in internal affairs is still the principle to which we all subscribe.

REMNICK:  In a second we're going to open this up to questions from members in the room.  So whoever's holding microphones, be prepared.

You gave a speech in the beginning of September in Moscow to the Diplomatic Corps.  And you quoted approvingly a Singaporean scholar who said the following:  "The West has gone from being the world's problem-solver to being its single biggest liability."  And you quoted this approvingly in the context of this speech, and I wondered if you could talk about that a bit.

LAVROV:  First of all, I quoted it to show that we must discuss these things.  We must not privatize values.  We must not privatize civilization.  We must admit that there are several civilizations in this world.  And we must admit that unipolarity based on the insistence that it's only the Western civilization which is right is absolutely a dead -- a dead end.

And we must also admit that we must not pretend that the European civilization -- and there are three branches of this civilization, European Union embodying the Europe proper part of it, the American branch and the Russian branch -- we must not pretend that the European civilization is going forever to be the leader in this world.  And to remain a leader you must be competitive.  We all must be competitive.  It's only together that we can be competitive.  And in competing with other civilizations, we can only prove -- we can only find out who is the leader.

And it's because this quote was a good illustration, in my view, that we must begin to talk seriously and we must respect others, that I quoted this scholar.  And the other reason was that he used to be my buddy, ambassador to U.N. and I thought it would be nice for him to know that I remember and read him.

REMNICK:  But you don't -- but you don't agree that the West is the world's biggest liability, as he -- as he sets it out?

LAVROV:  Well, I explained to you why I quoted him.

REMNICK:  But you don't agree?  You quoted him in a spirit of demonstration?

LAVROV:  Look, look, this "either you're with us or you are not with us or you are against us" black and white -- I explained to you why I did it and I think people understood.

REMNICK:  Steve Sestanovich -- that's you.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you, David.  Thank you, Sergei.

Over the summer, the foreign ministry produced a foreign policy concept for Russia and President Medvedev signed it.  But after the war in Georgia, he added a couple of words to it that have attracted a lot of interest, two words that hadn't been in what your ministry proposed earlier.  And those words are "privileged interest," talking about the region around Russia, it seemed.

Can you tell us what that means?  Because a lot of people have wondered whether it doesn't involve or imply defining your security at the expense of others, for example, or claiming kinds of rights that go beyond international law or introducing a new kind of hegemony that makes people in the West worry.  These words, as far as I know, have not been defined, but maybe you can make a breakthrough here.

LAVROV:  As soon you let me.

QUESTIONER:  Yes.  (Laughter.)

LAVROV:  Well, now I see -- now I see how -- now I see how easy it is to distort the policy statements.  You said that this particular phrase, which you quoted not very accurately, might mean that this could be ensured against international law.  The five principles which President Medvedev highlighted on August 31st, I think -- the principles contained in the foreign policy concept which you referred to, Steve, he started by principle -- and he said that, on the basis of foreign policy concept, I want to -- what -- how --

QUESTIONER:  Prioritize.

LAVROV:  -- prioritize the immediate principles on which our foreign policy would be based.

Number one, respect for international law.  And this wasn't intended as an abuse to the United States, I can assure you.  (Laughter.)

Number two, multipolarity.  We would henceforth build our foreign policy on the objective realties of multipolar world.  Unipolar world was maybe real in somebody's mind, but it did not work.  It failed completely in Georgia, just like the present system of European security architecture has failed.

Number three, non-confrontational approaches.

Number four, Russia has areas where it has privileged interests, not privileged areas, but some areas are the areas of privileged interest of Russia.  The foreign policy concept says that we will -- you want to get an answer from Vitaly or -- (laughter) -- the foreign policy concept said that we, Russia, will develop friendly, mutually beneficial relations with all those who are prepared to do the same on the equal and mutually beneficial basis, paying particular attention to the traditional partners of the Russian Federation.

Of course you're right, this is about countries of the former Soviet Union, but not only.  We have had since many years ago very good relations with countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America who send their students to study in the Soviet Union and in Russia, where we build a lot of industrial enterprises.  About 150 enterprises were built in Afghanistan alone.  Afghanistan is among those countries with whom we have very good relations.

And during the '90s, the period where we -- when we were considered one of the best democracies -- I don't recall that that period was dubbed with some sort of color revolution, but it was a democratic revolution without any color.  And during that period, unfortunately, we were so poor that we could not care about the immediate needs of our own people and we couldn't afford -- frankly, we didn't even remember about relationships with our old friends.

As we went out of this crisis, as we acquired resources sufficient -- maybe for the first time on history -- to address at the same time all the problems of the country at the particular point, including modernization of economy, including modernization of the army, which was in very bad shape, including resulting social problems, and including joining the club of donors who engage in official development assistance -- we just adopted a law to this effect -- we-- and we also saw the rising of the Russian business, who after they established themself inside the country, began, like any other business, to look abroad.  And of course the past experience, past connections are very important for business to reintroduce themselves in countries and regions.

And we will be paying attention to those who graduated from our universities.  We started a couple of years ago to invite them to Moscow for some sort of congress of those who graduated from educational institutions in our country.  We started to pay attention to those Russians -- ethnic Russians, who emigrated -- including from the time of -- before the revolution, to various countries and who now want to reestablish links, cultural and spiritual, with their motherland.  And we would like to use the economic assets all over the world, assets created with the assistance of our country, to get some benefit from it now.

So that's what is meant.  And principle number five, by the way, highlighted by our president, was about -- I was explaining principle number four for too long.  You don't remember?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  (Off-mike.)

LAVROV:  Ah, protecting Russians, protecting Russian citizens wherever they are.  Again, you can -- you can easily say that this is an aggressive policy.  This is why Russian -- as Condi called it -- (educated ?) bombers are flying to Venezuela.  Slightly humiliating, but fine.  (Laughter.)  Protecting Russian citizens.  We would, with all means available to us.

And I can quote as example how we are trying to protect the Russian speakers in Latvia and Estonia.  We have been saying that the only thing we insist upon is for these two countries to respond positively to recommendations by the Council of Europe, by the OSCE, by the United Nations.

The rapporteurs of these organizations repeatedly visit and repeatedly recommend to them to speed up the naturalization process, to simplify the citizenship procedures for newly born and for the elderly, these type of things.  We would protect the Russian citizens whenever they are subject to discrimination in business or in any other sphere, through diplomacy, through international instruments, through international organizations.

And I hope that no one would start again the bloody aggression launched by President Saakashvili in the early hours of August 8th against a sleeping city, and that no one would be killing Russian citizens.  And people would have to choose.  You either support those who killed hundreds of Russian citizens, including peacekeepers serving under international agreement, or you don't support such people.

I would -- the parallels are not correct, maybe, but I remember when Panama was invaded in -- 1989?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  (Off-mike.)

LAVROV:  No, Panama.  Panama.  And President Bush Senior, announcing this, said, we cannot tolerate this anymore.  One American serviceman was killed, another one wounded, the third one beaten.  And his wife sexually harassed.  That's enough, he said.  And the Americans raised like one to support the effort to protect the American citizens.  And I can also recall what was the motivation for a couple of other invasions, where no one was killed but there was a danger to their lives.   And countries -- countries were invaded.

REMNICK:  Let's try to fit in some more questions.

LAVROV:  And I believe -- and I believe that -- you must understand -- well, maybe I am slightly emotional, but when we didn't hear any condolences to the loss of Russian life, and when we heard at the same time condolences to the loss of Georgian life, it's not -- it's not in the traditions of Christianity, at least.

REMNICK:  Steve (Cohen ?).

QUESTIONER:  Sergey Viktorovich, I'd like to ask you a question that maybe you can answer outside your official position as foreign minister.  And I'd --

LAVROV:  (Inaudible) -- remove my title?  (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER:  Back in Soviet days, at least before Gorbachev, it was the official position in Moscow that there were no fundamental disagreements in Moscow about foreign policy toward the United States.  Today the Russian newspapers, your newspapers, are full of disagreements about policy toward the United States.  My question is, which of those disagreements in Moscow do you think we should know about which are most important?  And I don't mean disagreements in the Kremlin.  I mean disagreements in the political class more generally.  I'm not asking for secrets about the Kremlin.  But it's difficult to understand the degree in seriousness of these foreign policy debates in Moscow, because we have debates here, as well.  And I'm hoping you can give us a little guidance on that.

LAVROV:  Well, first of all, I would like to say that there have always been disagreements, including in the Soviet Union.  It's another thing that they were not public -- made public.  But as far as I can say, because I don't know everything about how the foreign policy was done in that period -- I was just junior diplomat -- but from what I know, the disagreements sometimes were very, very tough.  But the rule of the game in the Soviet Union was that after a decision has been taken, everyone was supporting the decision, in spite of the previous disagreements.  And disagreements would always be in a society, even in closed society, but in the open society, those disagreements are known and made public, and you yourself refer to the not very free Russian media, which is full of disagreements with the government.

I would hope that you would explain, to those who criticize us for curbing the media freedom, that there is a possibility to find many, many alternative views in Russia.

What sort of disagreements you should be really aware of, well, if you read those newspapers, you would understand that some people criticize Russia for what happened in Georgia, for how we responded to this aggression, and they criticize us from very utilitarian reasons.  They say U.S. is unhappy, U.S. is angry and U.S. would cancel visas to officials, U.S. would impede Russian business abroad, and so on and so on, so that's why, this line goes, we should have swallowed.  Others say that we were not resolute enough, that we acted only in response, though we knew that he was planning this, and we should have taken preemptive action; then hundreds of lives would have been saved.

Some others say that we should have taken Tbilisi and create a tribunal to try President Saakashvili.  Some others referred to the example of the fate of Saddam Hussein.  And this is all discussed.

But I -- not because it's -- (chuckles) -- not because I am foreign minister.  You asked me to try to remove my hat for a moment.  I believe that from a combination of reasons -- first of all, moral, legal, pragmatic -- this was the only possible solution.  After President Saakashvili tried his first South Ossetian war in August of 2004, he didn't have enough arms at that time, and the war was stopped quickly by peacekeepers and South Ossetian security forces.

After that -- and of course he has rearmed hugely.  After that he is world record maker in the growth of arms, of military budget.

But since that August, for the last four years, we had to keep on alert our military units on the Russian part of the border, of the Caucasian Range, because we knew that he was preparing this.  And for us not to react or to react without destroying the assets which were used to shell Tskhinvali and other cities in South Ossetia would mean to continue this never-ending watch on the gentleman who never kept his single word and who never accepted the proposal not to sign a treaty not to use force to resolve his territorial integrity.  He undermined it through violating each and every agreement Georgia signed on resolution of these conflicts.  And those agreements were done in the context of keeping territorial integrity of Georgia.  He disrupted this himself, those papers and the integrity --

REMNICK:  On the aisle here.  Yes, yeah.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Raghida Dergham, Al Hayat.

LAVROV:  Hi, Raghida.

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  How are you?

About your meeting again with Condoleezza Rice --

REMNICK:  Could you ID yourself?  I didn't --

QUESTIONER:  Yes.  I'm Raghida Dergham with Al Hayat.  Okay.

Now --

LAVROV:  From another civilization.

REMNICK:  No, I --

(Soft laughter.)

QUESTIONER:  Will you -- as a result of your meeting with Condoleezza Rice, will you now continue to postpone imposing additional sanctions on Iran?  Is this an agreement that you have that -- let's leave it till later?  Or was there any understanding that there would be a sort of timeline by which you will go back to this discussion?

And secondly, we heard about discussion between you and the Syrians on military facilities, military cooperation in the Tartus, et cetera.  Can you shed some light on exactly what sort of military cooperation are you planning with Syria?  Thanks, Sergey.

LAVROV:  The first one is easy.  We did not discuss any sanctions.  We just agreed that the three-plus-three group or five-plus-one group, whatever it is called, remains united in achieving its original goals, namely, making sure that IAEA has access to everything it needs to see to conclude that the Iranian nuclear program doesn't have any military dimension, period.

We also agreed that it was not timely to convene any ministerial meeting now, but that sometime down the road our experts could continue discussing how to proceed and how to support IAEA, especially since Iran is not found guilty, if you wish, in the last report by ElBaradei.  ElBaradei testified that IAEA doesn't possess any evidence that Iran has a military nuclear program, though of course ElBaradei said that Iran is still to cooperate fully on the remaining issues.

And the other one is also very simple.  We are not discussing anything with any country which would be against the internationally agreed norms and international law in the specific area.

REMNICK:  Right here.  Yes, you.  Yeah.

LAVROV:  Evelyn.

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  (Chuckles.)  Evelyn Leopold, who harassed him many years at the U.N. as a journalist.

Can I follow up on that?  Why did you not attend the meeting?  Why do not you think it's timely on Iran to have a foreign ministers' meeting tomorrow?  Are you waiting for the Bush administration to go out of office or another IAEA report?  Because the IAEA said it was very frustrated with Iran's position.

LAVROV:  Do you still smoke?  (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER:  No.  No.  You do, though.  (Off mike.)

REMNICK:  Is that the question?  (Soft laughter.)

QUESTIONER:  (Chuckles.)

LAVROV:  Well, Evelyn, I just said that ElBaradei said other things in his report.  But it's only the frustration part which is quoted here, and it's not the entire truth.  The truth is, as I said, that he said, reiterated, repeated once again that IAEA doesn't have any evidence that the Iranian nuclear program has a military dimension.

As to the meeting, yeah, I mean, Sean McCormack said today that they agree with us that this meeting is not timely.  So how can I challenge this?  (Soft laughter.)

And I can tell you that if anyone has the slightest doubt that the overriding goals of the three-plus-three group remain valid, we can tomorrow adopt a resolution which would bluntly says -- say that we reiterate all the existing resolutions of the Security Council, and we strongly call upon Iran to implement all these resolutions.  This would send a very clear signal to all those who believe that because of what is going on, some games would be played around nonproliferation issues.  No, this would not happen.

REMNICK:  Sergey Viktorovich, can I just interject a short question?  It's hard for us to understand from this distance.  And who is in charge of foreign policy in Russia at this time?  There's a great deal of confusion about whether the prime minister still holds sway in terms of matters of war and peace and security, or whether it's Mr. Medvedev, as the constitution would suggest.

LAVROV:  Look, for this -- for such a respected council not to follow the discussions about this I believe is not possible.  So you certainly know the statements to this effect by President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, who discussed this very recently once again when the members of the Valdai Club came.  President Medvedev, in full conformity with the Russian constitution, is in charge of the Russian foreign policy.

And even Steve said that it was President Medvedev who signed the foreign policy concept.  Right, Steve?

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

(Soft laughter.)

REMNICK:  I'm convinced.

Yes?

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you.  My name is Roland Paul.  I'm a lawyer.  I was in the U.S. government a couple of times.

One of your most important jobs is to draw conclusions as to what American foreign policy is toward Russia.  And with respect to South Ossetia and the activities there, do you believe that the American position is, we got the message that -- we hear and understand the message you're sending us, and we even respect your position somewhat, but don't make us say it out loud, and let's both be very careful?

LAVROV:  Can you -- (chuckles) -- can you repeat it?  (Chuckles.)

QUESTIONER:  Sorry.  I didn't mean to put too much in.  Concerning South Ossetia, do you see the American response to the Russian activity as being, you're trying to tell us something, you're trying to tell the United States something with a little bit more than what just happened in South Ossetia, and we hear the message -- we, the United States -- and we even respect what you're trying to say, but we are not going to say it out loud, and let's both sides be very careful?

LAVROV:  You know, it's not right to read anything more in all this episode than the protection of the Russian citizens and protection of the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  We didn't have any geopolitical background in what we did.  We did what we did and nothing more.

The geopolitical twist all was perceived in other people's minds.  And some people of course were beginning to speculate immediately that this is the beginning of the restoration of the Soviet Union.  Some heated statements were made that now NATO must protect the Ukraine from Russian aggression to take over the Ukrainian Peninsula.

The Baltic states said the usual thing about their fears of being reoccupied.  And some people in NATO even began discussing ideas of creating a rapid reaction force to save NATO members from Soviet aggression.  It could have been, you know, a novel, a fantasy novel had it not been things which people actually say.

We have no intentions to claim anybody's territory.  We want everybody to reiterate the principles which have been guiding us in Europe and in the world, including the principle of territorial integrity, sovereignty, mutual respect for each other, none use of force, none interference in domestic affairs of others, in internal affairs of other states, indivisibility of security.

Let's put all these principles and let's look at them once again.  That's what President Medvedev suggested when he spoke in Berlin on June the 5th and said, let's have a summit and discuss Euro-Atlantic security problems.

(Cross talk.)

If all these principles, if all these -- I am speaking to the gentleman.  (Laughter.)  He managed his question with difficulty, so I have to.

He said that if all these principles which we agreed in the past, since Helsinki I, are still valid, then let's discuss why they are not applicable in practice.

Maybe the mechanisms are not adequate.  Maybe we need to expand some mechanism.  Maybe we need some additional mechanisms.  But both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, speaking to the Valdai Club members, when asked this question clearly said that we have no territorial claims to anyone.

It was President Saakashvili himself who violated territorial integrity of Georgia and the part of that integrity which was governed by international regimes established after the previous war launched by another Georgian president against these two countries.

That Georgian president, Gamsakhurdia, by the way, 1991, he said, Georgia for Georgians.  We must deport Ossetians into Russia.  We must cut the Abkhazian territory.  We must cancel the Adjarian autonomy.  And he said there must be no autonomies on the Georgian territory.  Only titular nation should be reigning there.  And then he started the war.

People don't -- I talked to Henry Kissinger this morning.  He didn't know the history.  He didn't know the history of how Abkhazia and South Ossetia became part of the Russian Empire, entirely independent of Georgia.

He didn't know the history of the Soviet Union being created and Abkhazia being one of the constituent republics, with the same rights, with the same status as Georgia.

And he didn't know that it was Stalin who put Abkhazia inside Georgia, who cut Ossetia in two and left, put, gave South Ossetia to Georgia and left Northern Ossetia in Russia.

He didn't know that for Abkhazians and Ossetians, when they were brought by Stalin inside Georgia, inside the Soviet Union, it was very difficult to get a decent career unless the Georgianized their names.

And people remember this and people remember how in the '20s when for two or three years, Georgia was an independent state, after the October Revolution and before Georgia became one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union, when in 1920, Georgians tried to conquer Ossetia, which was not part of Georgia.  And thousands of people died at that time.

And when you have all these facts combined, even for outsiders, it would be easier to understand that this issue is not very easy.  It's not just about restore territorial integrity of Georgia.  It's about two centuries of very difficult history.

And what about, I mean, if the outsiders can understand that this is tough, then what about the Ossetians and the Abkhazians who lived through all this?  And their ancestors lived through this and they, in the Caucasus, they conveyed the feelings and the emotions to the future generations in a very specific way.

When in 2006, President Saakashvili was asked whether he would use force to resolve this conflict, he said, never, I would never use force because I know what blood means in the Caucasus.  And he said that himself -- blood there means not decades, centuries.

REMNICK:  I think we have time for one more.  It's good to know what Henry Kissinger does not know.  (Laughter.)  Maybe Sarah Palin -- (laughter).

Right there.  Yes, yes.

But I think this is it.

(Cross talk.)

The woman on the --

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

Minister Lavrov, thank you very much.  Elise Labott with CNN.

You spoke about the aging Blackjack bombers, so I know you were listening to Secretary of State Rice's speech.  I was just wondering, we've seen your comments from the ministry.  But if you could, just give us your candid assessment of the speech.  It was a very tough rhetorical speech.  She talked about Russia risking isolation and irrelevance.  I was wondering if you thought those were just emotional comments.

Did you take to heart what she said?  And do you think that coming to the United Nations this week, giving that speech just a few days ago, does that sour the atmosphere for the kind of pragmatic relationship that Russia hopes to have with the United States?

Thank you.

LAVROV:  Well, I could answer very, very briefly.  We understand the specific futures of the current period in the American life.  (Laughter.)

On isolation, one more remark, we don't feel isolated at all.  I have more requests for bilateral meetings during this session than in the past years.  And I really don't remember when there was so much interest in meeting and discussing things not only related to bilateral relations but related to the problems of the world and to the need for discussing those problems openly and the need to address those problems not with slogans -- you are a bad guy; you must do this; you must do that -- but addressing those problems intelligently.

This is what I feel.  And even if you take, you know, the countries who disagree with us publicly and even if you accept that all of those who disagree publicly feel the same inside them, then the problems related to the Caucasian crisis would be limited to some 25-30 countries.

And this again, you know, the question, the notion itself that Russia is isolated, the notion reflects the philosophy of unipolar world.  And I believe this philosophy is not going to prevail.  And life is much more complex and life is much more interesting than a unipolar world.

And I think in spite of the fact that the Chinese say, God forbid you to live in interesting times -- (laughter) -- interesting times we would have.

REMNICK:  Mr. Minister, thank you very much for -- (applause).

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