Sergey Lavrov says the US and Russia must do “everything possible” to stop violence in Syria, warning that people who fight the Syrian army are “very well armed,” among them “the terrorist organization created by the United States - Al-Nusra Front.”I can imagine Lavrov's tongue firmly planted in cheek regarding the highlighted statement
“This is a tragedy. What must be done and that's where the US and Russia see eye to eye is to do everything to stop it. You know that alongside with the opposition which is called Free Syrian Army terrorist organizations fight. And one of them was the terrorist organization created by the United States - Al-Nusra Front. Immediately the political leaders of the opposition said it was a mistake and betrayal because Al-Nusra cannot be listed as terrorist organization as long as it fights the regime,” the Russian foreign minister said in an interview with CBS in Moscow.
He added that back in the 1970s and ’80s the US was supporting Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet troops. “Then these Mujahideen gave rise to Al-Qaeda, and then Al-Qaeda struck back,” Lavrov said.
.... US and Israeli support for terrorists is going to be a recurring theme through this post and into the next one.
Syrian peace effortCBS: It's no secret that Russia and the US do not see eye to eye on the conflict in Syria. Has that put a strain on the relationship?
SL: I thought we saw eye to eye when [US Secretary of State] John Kerry was here. I don't think we have any difference in the strategic approach to the situation in Syria or the situation in any other country. We want all countries to be stable, prosperous, democratic with the systems which reflect modern requirements of international law, but also reflect the traditions of the society so that we promote cultural plurality in the world. So we don't differ on the goals of what all of us want to achieve in helping the people in any country to realize their dreams, if you wish.
CBS: But the US. Government has repeatedly spoken out against what it perceives as being Russia's support of the Assad regime?
SL: Well, that's misperception. And misperceptions are used in today's diplomacy to build the public opinion the right way for those who want to achieve some geopolitical goals.
CBS: How is that a misperception?
SL: Russia repeatedly stated that we do not support anyone in Syria. We are not weathered to any personalities. President Assad was a best friend of the French, the British and other European capitals. And that's a fact of life.
CBS: But you've supplied them with weapons?
SL: We supply weapons to all those who contracted legally. And this is the universal rule.
CBS: Even if those weapons may be used to perpetrate war crimes?
SL: I don't think you can perpetrate war crimes with defensive weapons, with air defense systems. I hope you also know about the volume and kind of weaponry sold by the United States to the countries of the region. And in quite a number of cases, those equipment and weaponry include things which you can use against popular demonstrators.
CBS: May I just read you a few elements from this list? This is a request from a Syrian army general to a Russian arms supplier from March of this year.
CBS: Twenty thousand AK-47s, 200,000 mortar rounds, grenade launchers, millions of rounds of ammunition. These are not defensive weapons.
SL: Are we discussing Syrian army requests or the substance of the contracts which we honor? I think those are two different things. And you have to make a difference.
CBS: Were these weapons supplied to the Syrian army?
SL: I have not seen this request. And this is not a contract to which we are committed. Those are two very different things. As I said, international law does not prohibit legal supplies, legitimate supply of arms to any sovereign state without violating any international norms. Take a look at the existing international legal basis, recently a conference concluded which was initiated years ago by Britain and some other Western countries to negotiate and international treaty on arms trade. We have been very disappointed that the eventual text does not contain very firm language on making sure that arms do not get into the hands of those who were not authorized by the state, in other words non-state actors. This treaty clearly says that you can no longer sell arms to the international players like countries, governments and you cannot sell arms to non-state actors. While this treaty was negotiated, the arms will continue to flow into the region, including into Syria through hundreds and hundreds of kilometers of uncontrolled borders. And the people who fight the Syrian army, they're very well armed. The situation in the city of Qusair was created by the fact that both sides were fighting with heavy weapons. The opposition used artillery and air defense systems.
This is a tragedy. What must be done and that's where the US and Russia see eye to eye is to do everything to stop it. You know that alongside with the opposition which is called Free Syrian Army terrorist organizations fight. And one of them was the terrorist organization created by the United States - Al-Nusra Front. Immediately the political leaders of the opposition said it was a mistake and betrayal because Al-Nusra Front cannot be listed as terrorist organization as long as it fights the regime.
I think that I don't even need to qualify this kind of attitude to what is going on. When John Kerry was in Moscow on May 7 we were absolutely united that we all must concentrate on bringing the parties to a negotiating table to implement during those negotiations, what was agreed in Geneva on June 30 last year.
‘Our priority is to stop violence’CBS: The peace conference that was slated for June now looks it will take place in July. Why the delay?
SL: I don't know. You have to interview John Kerry and his officials, because we promised to make sure that the government participates in the conference and the government said so.
CBS: So it's the opposition who are lagging?
SL: Yes. Well, that's, I believe, all over the media. And the American officials recognize that the national coalition on which some outside sponsors want to put all the money is not ready not even to negotiate, but to decide who is in charge in this coalition. And this is very unfortunate because there are constructive groups including those who never left Syria and spent all these years together with the Syrian people, who are in harsher position to the Assad regime and who want to participate in this conference and who, unlike the coalition, have a constructive agenda. They have the vision as to what kind of Syria they would like to see.
I met with the former chief of the coalition M. Khatib in February in Munich on the margins of the security conference. I liked the guy. I think he's the patriot and a very responsible politician. I suggested that instead of trying to get united only around regime change slogan, they should also present some positive agenda for their country.
CBS: And you've been successful in that endeavor?
SL: I don't think so. I never saw anything coming from the coalition which would say “this is Syria which we would like to build with all ethnic minorities, with all religious groups feeling comfortable, with all citizens being equal” and so on and so forth.
This never came from the coalition which is busy, as I said, trying to decide who is in charge. And we certainly believe that the entire spectrum of the Syrian society must be present. The supreme Kurdish council of Syria absolutely insists that it must be there.
I believe that it is in the interest of all of us to make sure that this is the case. Because we want Syria to stay united, one piece, sovereign territorial integrity respected. And for this you need to have Kurds among other at the negotiating table.
CBS: Do you believe that President Assad should step down?
SL: This is not for me to decide, this is for the Syrian people to decide.
‘We condemn all use of force which makes civilians to suffer’CBS: Do you believe this regime has perpetrated war crimes?
SL: I believe that there are signs that war crimes have been perpetrated by so many people in Syria and that this must be investigated. This is what we agreed in Geneva on June 30 last year. But we have to understand our priorities. If our priority is to punish people, then of course you can say that unless President Assad steps down, unless international criminal court considers this case we would not be ready for negotiation. That's what the coalition and some other opposition figures are saying. But then revenge and punishment is the priority number one. Our priority is to stop violence and to save more lives. And for this, you have to put everything else on the back burner. Everything can wait.
The immediate task is to make sure that they sit down and start negotiations. The government said it is ready. It said it has a delegation. The foreign minister would be the head of the delegation. We believe that the opposition must do the same as soon as possible. Those who sponsor the opposition must make all efforts to use their influence for good purposes. You know, because sometimes we hear statements like (actually some White House representative said the other day) that the US will continue to support the political and armed opposition because what is needed is to restore the military balance on the ground. If this is the logic of moving things forward, then I'm not very optimistic.
CBS: I've spent quite a bit of time on the ground inside rebel held parts of Syria. And I've seen fighter jets dropping bombs strapped to parachutes falling onto civilian areas, civilian casualties, women and children. And I wanted to ask you, have you ever even privately condemned the regime for bombarding its own people?
SL: Not only privately, we did it publicly. We condemn all use of force which makes civilians suffer. We do this irrespective of whether this is done by those whom we like or dislike politically. We condemned what our Western friends call ‘collateral damage’ in Libya when civilians were dying. We condemned the collateral damage in Iraq. And we condemned the use of force by regimes when the civilians suffered, be it Libya, be it Syria, be it any other country. But you have really to be consistent and you have to understand that the opposition is not just peaceful civilians.
CBS: But it started that way. I was there. I was at those protests.
SL: It started the way it started. And if we now want to get on to the business of who is to blame and not being able to lift a finger to stop the violence before we decide who is to blame, then I'm afraid we would be in for a very, very difficult and long tragedy.
If we are willing to do everything to stop this and to save lives, then we have to really agree on our priorities. Justice must be done. But justice can wait until we stop this. You cannot really say we would not we would not help stop the bloodshed until we have this guy in court.
'We're only country who works with all spectrum of Syrians, including armed opposition’CBS: Do you ever worry that you've backed the wrong horse?
SL: No, we are not cynical enough, you know, to use this type of analogy to describe a very tragic situation. We are not whether to President Assad and people know this. And when we discuss things privately with my colleagues including those who publicly make statements which are catching the eye, you know, of the viewers and creating a very simplistic picture of what is going on, when we talk to them privately, they understand fully what is going on. But they say, "You must understand that very early in the conflict we said he must go. And now we cannot eat our hat." Okay, we have to choose. Either you think about your reputation because you made the wrong statement two years ago or you think about achieving real result, which would save lives. And then you can use any eye-catchers like backing the horse or something else.
CBS: Wrong side of history?
SL: Wrong side of history, yes, we've heard of this. And we were also told that we had lost the Arab world. Well, come to put at mind that this is wrong, because we work - we're probably the only country which works - with the whole spectrum of Syrians, including all groups of the opposition, including the armed opposition. And we understand that those of them who think about their country would be really brought together and a compromise could be reached. So that not just the opposition who says, "Well, negotiations are good, but the only purpose to go to Geneva is for the government to deliver the full authority and to give it to us”. This is not going to work because this not what we agreed. Last year in Geneva we said that the government and the opposition must decide the composition of this transitional governing organ by mutual consent and because, apart from this coalition, there are people who, as I said, never left Syria and who suffered, they lived through all these difficulties together with their people. They have the right to express their view of what kind of future they want for their country.
CBS: Some analysts have suggested that Russia's stance on Syria may be a knee-jerk reaction to what it perceives as US meddling in other nation's affairs. Do you think that's fair?
SL: No, I think, this is again something which analysts invent to have something which would sell on TV, the newspapers and other media. We don't build our foreign policy on the basis of this kind of judgment. We try to be consistent. And as we were condemning the way NATO used the Security Council mandate in Libya, by the same token we condemn those people who made a support to Libya when this people are trying to get to power in Mali now. And our French colleagues who were supplying the Libyan rebels with arms are now fighting them in Mali and countering the French equipment which is used against them.
The interview is larger. I excerpted the section as it relates to Syria and terrorism etc
There were questions and answers both preceding and following this excerpt. You can read at the link above