Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Opening Remarks and Answers to Media Questions on Syria Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ayman Safadi Moscow, December 28, 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have had very productive talks with my Jordanian counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi.

We focused on the developments in Syria and reaffirmed our commitment to that country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

We are unanimous about the need to fully implement the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which requires all problems in Syria to be resolved on the basis of the consensus of the Syrian people. The implementation of this resolution also implies the complete eradication of terrorism on its territory.

We also believe that it is right to support the emerging trend of restoring Syria’s ties with other Arab countries.

We closely cooperate on Syrian topics both in the bilateral format and as part of the Astana process, in which Jordan traditionally participates as an observer.

One of the serious matters of concern to Jordan is the Syrian refugees, as 670,000 of them remain in Jordan. A particularly alarming situation is in the Rukban refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border in the At-Tanf security zone unilaterally declared by the United States. Today we discussed ways to deal with this camp where the refugees do not have access to humanitarian aid even though the US provides regular supplies to its military members there, and could also take care of the refugees.

We have agreed to discuss this problem and ways to resolve it in detail in the Russian-Jordanian operational headquarters in Amman with representatives of the United States and the United Nations occasionally joining in its work. It is clear that the problem of the refugees, not only at the Rukban camp, but the problem of the refugees’ return to Syria in general, requires generous international support.

We also discussed the problem of a Middle East settlement. Both of us expressed deep concern that the generally accepted international legal framework for the Palestinian-Israeli settlement is eroding. Russia consistently supports the earliest possible resumption of direct dialogue between the leaders of Palestine and Israel, and reaffirms its proposal to provide a venue for direct dialogue without preconditions. We consider it fundamentally important to resume as soon as possible the collective work on rescuing the foundations of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement with the participation of the Quartet of international mediators and representatives of the League of Arab States.

We are very worried about the continuing split among Palestinians, primarily between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Fatah and Hamas. Russia is trying to help overcome this split, and welcomes and supports the mediation efforts of Egypt in this sphere.

In conclusion, I would like to express satisfaction with the development of our bilateral relations with Jordan, which is based on the framework agreements reached between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Question (translated from Arabic): I have a question for the Jordanian Minister: Does the Government of Jordan have a programme for repatriating Syrian refugees and for keeping them safe? What role does Russia play in maintaining the safety of returning Syrian refugees, with due consideration for the fact that, as you know, a list of people wanted by Russia has been compiled? What will be done in this area?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Ayman Safadi): I can only confirm that we advocate the return of refugees in full compliance with the norms of international humanitarian law, including efforts to guarantee their safety, property rights and, of course, their worthy living conditions in the places, due to receive them. Russia has already helped the Syrian Government to create normal living conditions, including water and electricity supplies and medical services in communities that have already received tens of thousands of refugees, and that continue to receive them.

As I see it, the West’s current refusal to do the same and to help the people of Syria restore normal life in the country (that would allow refugees to return calmly and confidently) is counter-productive, and it runs counter to the norms of international humanitarian law as well as human rights.

During the first months of 2019, Brussels will host another conference on aiding and restoring Syria. We will see to it that Western donors completely comprehend their responsibility in this sphere and revise their negative position on efforts to help create favourable conditions for the return of refugees all over Syria.

Question: After announcing his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, President Donald Trump has also noted that Turkey will continue to deal with the remaining ISIS strongholds, and that Saudi Arabia is ready to finance the restoration of Syria. At the same time, President Trump said the United States will, if necessary, hit ISIS positions from Iraq. Does Moscow understand the algorithm of US actions regarding Syria? What does Moscow think about Ankara’s plans to attack Kurdish paramilitary units in Syria?

Sergey Lavrov: It is hard for me to assess the algorithm of current US actions regarding Syria; therefore we should wait and see when deeds will replace words. The Americans don’t always keep their promises. They promised to withdraw from At-Tanf, their unilaterally proclaimed security zone, long ago, but later they changed their mind.

I hope that they will explain their position via communications channels between Moscow and Washington. So far, we have heard that the United States is withdrawing its forces but remains part of the coalition which continues to operate, including on the ground. To the best of my knowledge and according to your question, Washington wants its coalition partners to assume responsibility. French, British and German service personnel are also illegally deployed on the ground. Of course, there are also the coalition’s air forces and, as you have said, regional allies on whom they want to shift an extra financial burden. We hope to receive specific explanations via the available channel, on the assumption that the end goal of all counter-terrorist operations in Syria (the US-led coalition’s officially declared goal) is to restore Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We perceive Ankara’s plans to conduct additional counter-terrorist operations in eastern Syria from the same standpoint of eradicating terrorism in Syria and restoring the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We and our Turkish colleagues will discuss the situation (in connection with the US decision to withdraw its armed forces from Syria) in Moscow, due to receive Turkey’s Foreign Minister and Defence Minister. We will tell you about our agenda later on.

Let me repeat: The final goal of our efforts in the Astana format, together with Turkey and Iran (we also coordinate these efforts with Jordanian colleagues), as well as our cooperation with the United States on Syria, is to expel the terrorists from Syria, to restore peaceful life and to create conditions for launching the political process. This process should help restore life back to normal in Syria where all ethnic groups and denominations, including, of course, the Kurds, would feel safe and comfortable.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation