Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia would strengthen multilateral partnership and promote it to a new level.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Lavrov noted that relations between Moscow and Riyadh were based on “friendship, diversity of bilateral interests and the principles of equality and mutual respect.”
“This approach was personally founded by the leaders of the two countries, President Putin and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz,” he said.
“By maintaining constant communication, they establish the main features of bilateral contacts and follow up the implementation of agreed priority projects.”
Lavrov went on to say that Putin’s upcoming visit to the Kingdom had a special importance, adding that he was confident that the talks at the highest level would give “an additional impetus to our multi-faceted partnership, will put it on a new level and enhance mutual understanding between our two peoples.”
On a different note, Asharq Al-Awsat asked the Russian foreign minister about the Iranian presence in Syria. He emphasized that the only legitimate basis for external actors on Syrian soil were the ones established on a request by the legitimate authorities, or on the basis of a relevant resolution by the Security Council.
“Iran is in Syria at the request of Damascus, unlike the United States. When ISIS’ main elements in Syria are defeated, questions will arise about the purpose of the continued US presence on Syrian soil. There is a strong sense that Washington’s mission is to prevent the restoration of Syria’s territorial integrity, in direct violation of Security Council Resolution 2254,” Lavrov remarked.
He also expressed hope that the United States would fulfill its pledge made by President Donald Trump in December 2018 to withdraw US troops from the country. He emphasized that Russia supported a diplomatic political settlement of the conflict through a comprehensive dialogue among the components of the Syrian people.
Lavrov welcomed the formation of the Syrian Constitutional Committee “based on the decision of the Syrian National Dialogue Conference in Sochi” early last year, pointing out that progress on the political track would put forward the file of Syria’s return to the Arab League.
“Much will depend on Saudi Arabia’s position, because its voice is heard in the region and beyond,” he said.
Asked whether the Russian intervention in Syria was aimed at “saving the regime,” he replied: “With regard to the idea of saving the regime, I have to note the following: our foreign policies have never been to personalize events, we do not hold onto specific people, we do not stand with anyone against another person.”
He added that Moscow “met the request of the Syrian authorities and provided them with assistance in the war on terror.”
Commenting on the potential of a major confrontation between Iran and Israel, the Russian foreign minister emphasized that Syria should not become an arena for implementing external agendas.
“Regarding arbitrary Israeli airstrikes on Syrian territory, we have never concealed a negative attitude towards such actions that further destabilize the situation and could lead to an escalation,” he noted.
“Syria should not become a platform for implementing plans or settling accounts. The main task of all concerned forces must be to help restore peace to Syrian territory,” he added.
Lavrov talked about the Russian initiative for Gulf security, saying that the updated version of the proposal was officially presented by the Russian foreign ministry last July.
He explained that the initiative provided for the establishment of a positive and unifying regional agenda and mechanisms for joint action to address challenges and risks.
“It is intended to launch a targeted and gradual process in which the views of all parties are taken into account. In this sense, our initiative is distinct from the other projects that are based on the principle: ‘with us or against us’,” he remarked.