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Joint News Conference with President of Syria Bashar al-Assad following Russian-Syrian talks

May 11, 2010, Damascus

President of the Syrian Arab Republic Bashar al-Assad (retranslated): Once again, I want to welcome my great friend, President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, whose visit is the first by a Soviet or Russian head of state to the Syrian Arab Republic. This is therefore a historical event indeed, an event that reflects the high level our cooperation has reached and the mutual understanding our countries have forged over these decades during which we have received Russia’s support on issues of direct concern to Syria. 

Dozens of Syrian students studied in Soviet and Russian universities, later returning home and making a big contribution to carrying out various infrastructure projects here in our country.

There have also been dozens of Russian specialists who worked shoulder to shoulder with their Syrian colleagues, taking active part in carrying out a large number of infrastructure projects in Syria.

Furthermore, there are a considerable number of mixed marriages that have produced a large number of children. Some of these families live in Syria, and some live in the Russian Federation. The main thing is to preserve and develop this humanitarian bridge and thus make a big contribution to all-round development of the relations between our countries. 

We in Syria have never forgotten and never will forget the support that first the Soviet Union and then Russia gave us over all the years since we established diplomatic relations. This support has helped us to stand up for Arab rights, Arab views, the rights of the Palestinian people, and of course, the rights of our own country, the Syrian Arab Republic, to have its occupied territories returned. This support makes us very happy, and we are sure that Russia will continue to provide it in the future.

Syria, as is known, plays an important part in the Middle East region, one of the most important regions in the world. In this respect we have always held the view that Russia has a historic role and big influence in this region. Russia is an influential member of the international community and a country creating a unique link between West and East, a country with considerable human, economic, and technical possibilities to offer.

We therefore consider it very important to engage in regular political dialogue with our Russian friends. This dialogue is important for the Middle East and for the world in general. Traditionally, it has been a very productive and fruitful dialogue, and our talks today are yet further evidence of this.

During our talks we noted the steady development in our bilateral ties and also the regular nature of our political dialogue, as well as our common desire to do everything we can to intensify our trade and economic cooperation.

Of course, the current global financial crisis that has affected the entire world has inevitably had an impact on our bilateral relations too, but we nevertheless share the view that we must look to the future and do everything we can to put the effects of this crisis behind us and move forward.

We gave a lot of attention to bilateral cooperation in the oil and gas sector, in particular, hydrocarbon exploration and production, and building oil refineries. We spoke about bilateral cooperation in the electricity sector and joint projects to build power plants, both conventional and nuclear power plants. 

We discussed at length the opportunities for cooperation in building dams and other infrastructure facilities in Syria, and discussed the possibilities for joint projects in the transport sector, above all in air transport. We talked about the possibility of setting up a council on strategic cooperation. These are all things that our foreign ministries will work on, drafting the required proposals and presenting them to our heads of state.

We also discussed at length the prospects for a Middle East peace settlement. Our countries have always placed great importance on reaching a comprehensive and fair peace in the Middle East, something in which we both have an interest. Russia has traditionally been an important player in this area, acting as a co-sponsor of the peace process launched at the Madrid conference of 1991. Today, regrettably, the political process in the Middle East has come to a halt. But we nevertheless believe that we must use all possibilities available to encourage negotiations to continue and strengthen the hopes for diplomatic solutions to the problems that exist, as well as working to exclude the possibility of using military force to settle these problems.

We noted that Israel’s actions regarding East Jerusalem, the Muslim holy sites in this city, and the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip are all creating serious obstacles on the road to a peace settlement in the Middle East.

Of course, we also discussed the Iranian nuclear programme. Both sides noted in this respect that all countries have the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in compliance with the obligations placed upon them by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We spoke about the goal of ultimately making the Middle East a region free of all weapons of mass destruction, and shared the view that we need to continue political dialogue between Iran and the countries taking part in the six-party talks on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Syria reiterated its position that achieving peace and stability will create a reliable barrier against the spread of terrorism, and in this respect we expressed our resolute condemnation of the terrorist attacks committed recently against our friends, the Russian people, a people who have great love for peace and stability.

We say once again that we continue to stand firmly beside the Russian Federation in the fight against this evil and the efforts to present further such barbaric acts in the future.

Once more, I welcome my good friend, Mr Medvedev, the President of the Russian Federation, and I now give him the floor.

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen,

Indeed, we have had very productive talks with my colleague, President Bashar al-Assad, and these talks demonstrated that the ties between our countries are ties of mutual friendship, long-standing trustful cooperation and dialogue. The Syrian President has just elaborated on the history of those ties. But Russian-Syrian relations have not just a glorious history, they should also have perspectives. In fact, those perspectives were what we discussed with the President of Syria over the past few hours today and yesterday evening. In effect these perspectives should be economical and political.

First, a few words on developing our economic contacts. We agreed to strengthen the strategic component of our relations through consultations between foreign ministers who will later report to the presidents. We have made some good progress in the past years and, despite the global financial crisis, our trade and economic relations are currently on the ascent. But we have to identify new areas in which to apply our efforts and put our investment potential into action.

Today we discussed a wide range of projects, and it is worth noting that these projects, indeed, have clear prospects of being implemented. I refer to our cooperation in the already traditional for us area of oil and gas. Here, we may see certain achievements: a few facilities have been built in the past few years, but the perspectives are even more promising. There is also cooperation in the field of transportation, electric energy, as well as nuclear energy, which, in my view, could experience a second lease on life, as was mentioned by the President, in the field of tourism and high technologies. I consider these areas to be highly interesting.

The Russian delegation, and this is our first visit at such a high level to Syria, is truly representative. It includes the Russian governors who are eager to cooperate with Syria, as well as executives of major Russian companies already active in Syria or about to launch projects here as a result of our agreements with President al-Assad.

Economic relations are not all we have. There are very long-standing relations between Russia and Syria in science, culture, and education. There is a program of cultural cooperation that will run until 2012, Syrian students continue to be trained in Russia, even though the process is not as intensive as it used to be in the past. We are ready to expand these possibilities, because we believe that is an investment into the future.

We maintain links with those who was educated in Russia, their families, as the President mentioned a moment ago. In Syria, there is an association of alumni of Soviet and Russian universities, and Russian professors teach at the Damascus conservatory. There are also exchanges at the level of the Russian Academy of Sciences. I am convinced that is of utmost importance for our good relations.

All we talked about and the existing agreements were reflected in the package of documents that were signed today in our presence and earlier. This is a good legal basis.

But naturally we could not elude the discussion of the international situation. We did that today and long enough yesterday in a restricted format. Of course we discussed first and foremost the situation in the region, the Middle East settlement, the difficulties that have emerged recently, and possible ways to settle these extremely complex problems.

Further ‘aggravation’ of the situation in the Middle East may result in explosion and catastrophe. On my part, I reiterated that Russia will continue to do everything in its power to help put the Arab-Israeli settlement process back on track on the basis of the existing international legal documents such as first and foremost the decisions of the United Nations, its relevant resolutions, the Madrid principles, and the Arab peace initiative. The result of those efforts should be a comprehensive, equitable and long-lasting resolution of the conflict, the restitution of the Arab lands occupied in 1967, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. We discussed these issues in details with President al-Assad and agreed to further cooperate on the subject with other states.

We also didn’t leave untouched other complex matters. Indeed, we discussed the problem related to Iran, including its nuclear programme. In doing so we stressed the right to a peaceful nuclear programme, but coupled with the need to respect existing nonproliferation rules, as well as the need on the part of Iran to constructively engage with the international community and achieve a mutually acceptable solution.

We are in agreement with the Syrian President that the Middle East should be an area free of nuclear weapons, because development of the situation in a different direction would mean a regional, and maybe even global catastrophe.

I would like once again to thank President of Syria Bashar al-Assad for inviting me to make an official visit to Syria. It is indeed the first such visit and a very important one in the history of our relations, which, despite their many years, have never witnessed a visit at this level. This is a symbol of future cooperation which I hope will expand.

In turn, I would like to once again reiterate my invitation to the Syrian President to visit Russia.

Question: Question for the Syrian President. How to you see perspectives for a settlement of the Middle East conflict? What do you see as Russia’s role in that settlement? A settlement is, as you said yourself, a negotiation process. A negotiation process requires some compromises. Is Syria ready for some compromises in this round of negotiations?

Bashar al-Assad: Let me begin with the role the Russian Federation plays and can play. Russia, as we all know, was one of the main countries that made possible the Madrid Peace Conference, as a result of which a solid international legal basis was worked out for a settlement in the Middle East. That international legal basis I have mentioned does not in any way contradict the Arab peace initiative I mentioned earlier today. In principle, these documents, these ideas derive from existing corresponding United Nations resolutions.

Secondly, Russia, as we know, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and it is its responsibility as such to make all in its power, jointly with other permanent members of the Security Council, to see that these resolutions of the Council are implemented. I mean the resolutions related to the Middle East peace process. 

Thirdly, Syria is one of the major states on the international scene and as such should play its role in facilitating the Middle East settlement process. In that perspective, the role of Russia is mostly related to the question you asked in the central portion of your monologue.

The negotiations you inquired about, of course, are much related to the fact that there should be a certain mechanism for monitoring the negotiations, as well as there should be efforts aimed at making sure the agreed international legal basis for the Middle East settlement process that I have mentioned is respected.

Let me repeat that the international legal basis for the Middle East settlement process is known, understandable, and obvious. It is first of all the corresponding Security Council resolutions, which are in the same spirit as the provisions of the Arab peace initiative adopted in 2002. Over all, this approach is shared not only by our countries, but also by the majority of countries in the world. The only question, maybe, is that we are still waiting to see when the US administration will finally decide to seriously address the negotiations process and do what is necessary to put it back on track.

That is why we see Russia’s role from two sides. On one hand, Russia’s effort, which is already underway, is directed at convincing the Israeli leadership, which is still not a trusted partner, in our view, in the negotiations process, to adopt a more constructive approach and return to the negotiating table. On the other hand, we see Russia’s role, effort, in convincing the US administration to adopt a more serious and responsible attitude toward the Middle East settlement process.

And if we are able to achieve these two goals, then we might be in a position to agree (our hopes first and foremost rest on the Russian Federation on this issue) on a mechanism for the monitoring of future Arab-Israeli negotiations, which, as I have said, should be based on the known international legal basis and, in doing so, conclude in the results expected by all from that negotiation process.

Concerning your question regarding the compromises on Syria’s side, compromises are of course possible, except in cases when such compromises touch on the sovereign rights of that or another country.

If, for example, we imagine a situation in which one person stole from the other a piece of his property, it is hard to imagine the party that has suffered agreeing only to a partial return of its stolen property. Correspondingly, Syria in this situation cannot agree to such a compromise, when only part of its occupied territory is returned. In such an understanding, I mean the complete restitution of occupied land, then we are ready to discuss all related issues, including issues related to the provision of security.

Maybe I have answered your question as relates to Syria, even though that issue concerns many other countries in the Middle East.

Question: Question by a journalist of the Syrian newspaper Al Watan. First and foremost, journalists of this newspaper express their gratitude to President Dmitry Medvedev for this first-ever official visit and for the interview he gave to our newspaper ahead of his visit to Damascus. The question is related to the Middle East peace process and to perspectives for finally getting some traction on the issue. What is the Russian Federation’s position on this subject, including in the context of its recently voiced idea of calling an international conference on the matter in Moscow?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

In fact, it is high time we do something, because events have been developing in a very negative scenario lately. In effect, the Middle East peace process has degraded.

I agree with my colleague, the President of Syria that we have a sufficient legal foundation to resuscitate this process and take it to its logical conclusion. What I have in mind is the corresponding resolutions of the UN Security Council and the Madrid principles, to which Russia has a direct hand, and the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which we also consider as a good basis on which the dialogue may continue. Therefore, in that respect, everything is in place.

What is lacking? The will is what’s lacking. That will has to be stimulated. I see the role of the Russian Federation in using its influence through such contacts to continue the dialogue with all parties of the conflict, as well as with other countries. If we talk about ongoing efforts, this year alone I have had separate talks with [Prime Minister] Abu Mazen, the Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, with King of Jordan Abdullah, and I have had contacts with the Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak. There were contacts with other people who are involved in that process. Now, I am on an official visit in Syria.

In that regard, the ball is not in Russia’s court. But I agree with my colleague that the US side could have adopted a more active position. In that regard, all means could have some perspective: and shuttle diplomacy and indirect negotiations in order to finally arrive at direct negotiations and achieve the corresponding results. In any case, there is no room for relaxation, because as I said, the situation is degrading, further complicating, and very negatively affecting the overall climate in the Middle East.

We are ready on our side to make all the efforts necessary, as well as we are ready to host the Moscow conference that was announced for any minimal stop-gap result of the corresponding work. We are ready for active work with our Arab partners, ready to work with other parties, in order to achieve results. The most important thing is to move forward and not stop midway on this difficult road, because, let me repeat, the situation is very grave.

We discussed most specific issues today with President Bashar al-Assad.

May 11, 2010, Damascus