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Speech at Meeting of the Permanent Representatives of the League of Arab States

June 23, 2009, Cairo

Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Secretary-General,

Permanent representatives and ambassadors,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to speak here from the tribune of the League of Arab States. This is my first visit to this influential organisation’s headquarters. As an organisation uniting the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, with their shared history, the League of Arab States plays an important part today in global and regional politics, the economy and finance. There can be no progress on many of the issues facing the world today, such as security, sustainable development, promotion of dialogue between civilisations, and settling religious conflicts, without taking into consideration the organisation’s position and the views of its member states. And the same applies, of course, to our efforts to successfully overcome the problems brought on by the global financial and economic crisis. 

The objective reality is such that when global mechanisms are not in balance, regional and sub-regional groupings take on much greater importance. Many parts of the world, including the Middle East, are undergoing a very rapid regionalisation process. Countries are taking on responsibility not just for solving their own problems but also for looking for regional solutions to today’s global challenges. A very clear example in this respect was the recent summits of two young organisations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the BRIC Group, in Yekaterinburg, on the border between Europe and Asia. 

Longstanding traditions of friendship and respect bind Russia and the Arab world together. This visit has given me the chance to see once again just how deeply historical memory has taken root among our friends in the Middle East. People here have not forgotten the time when our country provided all-round support to help get the countries of this region on their feet. It was back then, during the decolonisation period, that we laid the foundations for building a fairer and more modern world order.

Stronger relations between Russia and the Arab countries are an essential condition for international politics today. We have tried and tested friendship and we share similar positions on the main international issues. Finally, we seek cooperation based on trust for each other and interest in each other. This offers us excellent prospects ahead.

We in the Russian Federation have not forgotten how, during the difficult times our country traversed in the 1990s, the Arab world spoke its support for our territorial integrity. We seek to continue building on these traditions of cooperation and to keep developing our ties with your organisation’s member states.

Our relations have a very solid foundation. Total trade turnover between Russia and the countries in the League of Arab States comes to almost 10 billion USD. This is a decent figure, but our cooperation potential is much, much higher. It is extremely important now to develop our investment ties, expand our relations in the energy sector and increase the number of joint projects. We hope that the Declaration of Intent on establishing a Russian-Arab cooperation forum that was signed today will give a big boost to this process.

Of course, we continue to place priority on our humanitarian projects too, which have developed along with our intergovernmental relations over the years. Many young people from the Middle East have studied at first Soviet and then Russian universities over these decades, and tens of thousands of mixed families have been founded. Our citizens have contributed to building and developing the region’s countries, developing their industry and agriculture and strengthening their armed forces. This has gone hand-in-hand with rapid tourism growth and increasing activeness of non-governmental organisations that create real opportunities for ordinary people to have contact with each other.

We share spiritual closeness too. Russian pilgrims have been coming to the Holy Land for nigh on 1,000 years now, and millions of Muslims have been living in Russia for centuries now in peace and harmony with their neighbours – the 160 peoples and ethnic groups and more than 50 different faiths that make up our country. Islam is an integral part of Russia’s history and culture. Respect for the faiths, customs and traditions of our peoples is at the very foundation of civic peace in our country. I can say quite frankly that Russia has no need to seek friendship with the Muslim world because our country is an organic part of this world – around 20 million of our citizens are Muslims. This figure speaks for itself. It is precisely for this reason that we value our growing cooperation with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, in which we have obtained observer status with the active support of our friends. 

Facilitating respectful contact between the members of different faiths is one of Russia’s policy objectives. We have an active inter-faith dialogue underway in our country, including through the Interreligious Council of Russia which consists of the senior representatives of major traditional confessions. On our initiative, the Russia – Islamic World Strategic Vision Group, and the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilisations have been established and successfully operate. Russia is an active participant of the Alliance of Civilizations and our proposals to establish a consultative council on religion under the aegis of UNESCO fit well with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s initiative to establish permanent direct cooperation between the senior clergy of the world’s major faiths, including with a view to drafting collective recommendations that could then be discussed in the United Nations.

It is my conviction that cooperation between Russia and the Arab world has a vital part to play in global politics today. This cooperation can provide us with a platform for peaceful settlement of many international and regional problems. After all, we share similar positions on most of these issues. This is indeed the case, and the Secretary-General said the same thing just now. Our positions are similar on the most serious issues: terrorism, extremism, peaceful settlement of regional conflicts, nuclear non-proliferation. We will continue to seek common responses to the challenges facing the Middle East and the world as a whole. We also understand well the Arab countries’ desire to combine modern development with respect for national and religious traditions. This is the only way to truly strengthen political stability and achieve economic and social prosperity in the region. We can learn a lot from the Arab world. In our view, taking a mentor’s tone, trying to push one particular vision of democracy, and all the more so direct intervention from outside, are all unacceptable. The world is starting to understand this. Evidence of this can be seen in the recent speech by President of the United States Barack Obama at Cairo University. It is important that we start to reflect on what is happening in the world today in universal categories such as justice, tolerance, and respect for countries’ sovereignty and international law. This is the road that will give us new opportunities for setting an agenda that unites us.

I note too the importance of the moral dimension in international relations and the significance for today’s world of the humanitarian values taught by all of the world religions, including Islam, of course. Security today is indivisible. We cannot ensure our own security at the expense of others’ security. With this in mind, we are doing all we can to help settle the crisis situations and conflicts that unfortunately still exist in the region, and we are doing so on the basis of collective efforts and in full accordance with international law.

Russia will continue to make strenuous efforts to facilitate settlement in the different conflict zones. We have consistently supported normalisation of the situation in Iraq through national consensus, and we are doing what we can to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, strengthen stability in Lebanon, where free and democratic parliamentary elections just took place, resolve the crisis in Darfur in accordance with respect for Sudan’s territorial integrity and independence. The initiative we put forward in 2007 to establish a collective security system in the Persian Gulf area has met with a positive response in the region. 

We are very conscious that the key to overall normalisation in the Middle East is the Palestinian issue and ending the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land. It is clear that lasting security in the Middle East will be achieved only through fair and comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This settlement should lead to the establishment of an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, a state that will coexist in peace and security with all of the region’s countries, including with Israel, of course. A fair solution also must be found to the problem of Palestinian refugees.

Russia is not indifferent to the status of the holy places in Jerusalem, and we think that any solution should guarantee free access for believers of the world’s three monotheistic religions.

This is the approach cemented in the Arab peace initiative adopted in 2002 at the League of Arab States’ summit in Beirut and reaffirmed at subsequent Arab summits. We welcomed and supported this initiative right from the start. Furthermore, with our active help, it has become an inalienable part of the universally recognised international law at the foundation of the Middle East peace process. The main priority now is to resume Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as swiftly as possible. The pause in talks has dragged on for too long and is becoming increasingly worrying. We need to act, but we need to act in such a way as to put in place the conditions to allow the political process to resume as soon as possible. This is not a case of starting over from scratch – we need to take into account the international laws and prior agreements that I mentioned. We must not allow any slide backwards. It is essential to ensure that all parties in the conflict respect their commitments with regard to fighting terrorism and violence and renouncing any unilateral action, including further growth in Israel’s settlements. These are essential conditions for achieving a final settlement.

It is especially important today to restore Palestinian unity on the basis of the Arab peace initiative and the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s platform. We support Egypt’s efforts to mend the divide between Palestinians, and have made clear this support in our official contacts. In terms of its consequences for world civilisation, including relations between civilisations, the Arab-Israeli conflict has global significance. It is a global danger. Until such time as a fair settlement is reached the international community will find it difficult to respond to all of the different global threats and challenges. This awareness is what underlies the consolidated position taken by the Quartet of international mediators. This unity was confirmed at the United Nation’s Security Council’s special meeting on the Middle East on May 11, 2009 under Russia’s chairmanship. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, perhaps, such a united front has emerged in support of settlement, and this is very important.

The Moscow conference on the Middle East will be an important step in our efforts to reach a settlement. Russia first put forward this initiative here in Cairo, in 2005. We are grateful to the League of Arab States for supporting this initiative. All parties, including the new Israeli government, have given their agreement to take part. It would give me great pleasure to welcome representatives of your countries in Moscow.

Colleagues, the new and fair world order that we all desire will reflect the full diversity of the world’s cultures and civilisations for the first time in centuries. This is one of its fundamental components. I do not want to frighten anyone, but all notions of civilisation-based exclusiveness are a thing of the past. At the same time, the foundations of our common human civilisation are expanding, and much in this common civilisation has its source in the East in general and specifically here in the Middle East, the birthplace of the three world religions.

I am sure that overcoming the global crisis, which essentially has its roots in systemic and civilisation-based issues, requires us to take the experience of all cultures and traditions into account. Attempts to define some kind of ‘pure’ development model, establish a ‘universal development model’ and spread it throughout the world will either fail or result in utopian experiments that, as we know, can turn to disaster.

In conclusion, I want to say once again that stronger relations between Russia and the Arab countries are an essential condition for international politics today. We have tried and tested friendship and we share similar positions on the main international issues. Finally, we seek cooperation based on trust for each other and interest in each other. This offers us excellent prospects ahead.

Thank you for your attention.

June 23, 2009, Cairo