REVIEW - INF Treaty, Whelan Arrest, Talks With Japan In Focus As Lavrov Holds Annual Presser

MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 16th January, 2019) Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a traditional annual press conference on Wednesday, during which he shared insights into a wide range of international issues from consultations with Washington on preserving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and peace treaty talks with Japan to the espionage case of Paul Whelan and lack of any intention to "gloat" over Brexit.

US NOT INTERESTED IN INF PRSERVATION

Opening the press conference, the top diplomat noted that the situation in the world remained tense in the previous year, largely due to the West's persistent reluctance to accept modern realities and desire to impose its will on other nations through forceful, economic and propagandist means.

The US plans to unilaterally withdraw from the INF treaty are a clear illustration of such a behavior, Lavrov said. According to the minister, the relevant Russia-US consultations in Geneva on Tuesday showed that Washington was unwilling to consider proposals offered by Moscow to preserve the treaty, thereby proving its determination to dismantle the key international security treaty.

"To our greatest regret, yesterday, Russia's practical proposals that, let me assure you, allowed the United States to examine on an expert level the 9M729 missile, which they suspect of breaching the parameters set out by the treaty [were not heard] ... Our questions about why the Americans do not want to look at our proposals, at the exact parameters of this missile first-hand, were not heard," Lavrov said.

According to Lavrov, the US delegation came to Geneva with "a preconceived position, which was an ultimatum and a demand that we destroy this missile, its launchers and all related equipment under American supervision."

The United States did not listen to Russia's proposals on actions that would help assuage the US fears over Russia's compliance with the treaty and would give Moscow access to the information regarding its suspicions against the United States, he specified.

"All of this was swept aside, and the US opinions heard yesterday followed the logic of 'you are breaking the treaty, and we are not, that is why you, Russia, have to do what we demand and we are not obliged to do anything.' Of course, you cannot go far with this stance," Lavrov said, adding that the US stand was a clear indication of its policy toward scrapping all agreements in the area of strategic stability.

The Russian foreign minister stressed that Moscow was still ready to work to save the treaty and was hoping that Europe would also put in effort to save it, instead of giving in to the US influence.

"I hope that those European countries that are more interested [in this] than, perhaps, anybody else ... will try to influence Washington so that it would take on a more responsible stance," Lavrov concluded.

KREMLIN 'AGENTS' AND DEGRADED JOURNALISTIC STANDARDS

When asked to comment on claims about US President Donald Trump's "collusion" with Russia and The Washington Post's reports alleging that the US leader had been concealing details of his talks with President Vladimir Putin from his administration, Lavrov decried them as a "degradation of journalistic standards."

"To be honest, I already find it hard to comment on the situation around claims that President Trump is in fact a Russian agent. I think this is such a degradation of journalistic standards, and such a thankless job for the US press. I can't believe that journalists sincerely and professionally work on these stories in the United States," he stressed.

He specified that under US legislation, the head of state has a right to define and implement foreign policies.

"We know that the Congress attacks this right, it emerges often in media reports, including those by your counterparts. But this does not mean that these attacks are constitutional, neither it makes them less illegal," the minister added.

ESPIONAGE SUSPECT WHELAN WAS 'CAUGHT IN THE ACT'

During the press conference, Lavrov also for the first time commented on the arrest of Whelan, a former US marine arrested in Moscow on charges of espionage.

US citizen Whelan, 48, who also has Irish, Canadian and UK citizenships, was detained during an espionage operation in Moscow in December. He denies the charges and insists he came to Russia only to attend a friend's wedding. A Moscow court will consider the appeal against Whelan's arrest on January 22.

Lavrov said that that Irish diplomats planned to visit Whelan in a detention facility later in the day, while the United States had filed a request to facilitate another visit to its national.

He also added that Russia had no intention to somehow prevent UK diplomats from getting consular access to their national if they filed a relevant request, even though London had been denying Moscow consular access to Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia for months.

"If such an appeal comes, we will not act in the same way as our British colleagues. We will act in accordance with the obligations under the [bilateral consular] convention, in accordance with diplomatic decency," Lavrov said.

Commenting on Whelan's case, the minister dismissed speculations that Whelan's arrest was a setup to push for his exchange for some Russian nationals detained abroad. He stressed that the man had been "caught in the act" in a hotel.

VYSHINSKY-UKRAINIANS SWAP UNACCEPTABLE

When asked why Russia was reluctant to consider the possibility of exchanging RIA Novosti Ukraine portal chief Kirill Vyshinsky for some of the Ukrainian nationals detained in Russia, Lavrov said the idea was being promoted by those who seek to use journalists as a bargaining chip in the implementation of "dishonest" plans.

"Speaking about the idea of a swap, which some might view as an interesting one, I do not believe that it will contribute to making the Ukrainian authorities return to respecting their obligations with regard to journalists. Such ideas might only interest those, who are ready to use journalists as a bargaining chip in the implementation of their dishonest goals," Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow.

He reiterated that Russia would do its best so that the rule of law would be ultimately upheld in this situation, while the journalist who remains in custody in Ukraine on suspicion of supporting the breakaway republics of Donbas and treason could be released and return to his professional duties.

According to Lavrov, the Syrian settlement is moving at a slower pace than all interested parties wish, but is still demonstrating progress.

"We are convinced that the fight against terrorism must be brought to an end. Now, the main hotbed of terrorism is the Idlib zone, where Jabhat al-Nusra [a terror group outlawed in Russia] has subjugated and put under its control almost all the militants," the minister said.

He reiterated Russia's interest in implementation of the agreements that were reached between Russia and Turkey on a demilitarized zone in Idlib in September.

"But they do not imply granting full freedom of action to terrorists, who, by the way, also continue shelling the positions of Syrian troops and civilian facilities, and seek to attack the Russian air base in Hmeimim from the Idlib demilitarized zone," he stressed.

He added that the issue related to the Idlib zone would be discussed during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's talks with Putin in Russia next week.

Another topic on agenda of the upcoming talks is Ankara's proposal to set up a buffer zone in Syria, according to Lavrov.

"This issue [the proposal of Turkey to create a buffer zone in Syria] will be discussed when President Erdogan arrives for the next round of talks with President Putin. But the ultimate goal is to restore sovereignty and territorial integrity in Syria, as the United States, Turkey, Russia and all other UN members have stated," the minister stressed.

Lavrov added that Russia, while negotiating any agreements on Syria, would seek to ensure that security interests of all countries of the regions were observed.

SCEPTICISM AROUND US-LED MIDEAST SUMMIT IN POLAND

When asked to comment on the US plans to hold an international meeting on stability in the middle East on February 13-14 in Poland, Lavrov said that Moscow had received an invitation to the event. The minister, however, expressed doubt that it would contribute to solving regional problems, adding that its agenda seemed to have been tailored to serve exclusively US foreign policy interests.

"We received a description of the agenda, which primarily consists of discussing conflicts in Syria, Yemen and problems with the Iranian missile program this time and Iran's actions in the region ... It seems that the entire agenda is adapted to the promotion of American approaches to deterring Iran in that region. This is declared as the official position of the United States, and the event in Warsaw obviously aims to achieve this task," Lavrov said.

He also noted that the program of the proposed meeting in Poland lacked an obvious key issue for the Middle East the Arab-Israeli conflict settlement.

He said the invitation stated that the final document would be drafted by the United States and Poland without the possibility of other countries participating in the process.

"Frankly speaking, it is not the normal practice in international affairs. It turns out that about fifty ministers were invited to consecrate with their presence the document that the United States would write with all due respect to Poland on its own. Taking into account these considerations, we have big doubts that such an event can help constructively solve the problems of the Middle East region," Lavrov said.

During the press conference, Lavrov also further clarified Russia's position on peace treaty talks with Japan, adding that the need for Tokyo to recognize the results of World War II was not an ultimatum.

"We do not demand anything from Japan. We just call on our Japanese neighbors to bring their practical actions in line with their obligations under the UN Charter, the San Francisco declaration and a number of other documents," Lavrov stated.

The statement came after Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono held first consultations on the issue of concluding a peace treaty between the two countries in Moscow on Monday.

Lavrov clarified that Moscow did not oppose the new name for Macedonia under the Skopje-Athens deal, but questioned the legitimacy of the ongoing process, which could be, first and foremost, driven by the goal of dragging the Balkan country into NATO as soon as possible.

"We do not oppose the name that eventually appeared and was announced. We ask questions about how legitimate this process is and how much it really is conditioned by the desire to find a consensus between Greece and Skopje, or it is conditioned by the US desire to drive all Balkan countries into NATO as soon as possible and stop any Russian influence in that region," he explained.

He stressed that Russia had always actively supported the dialogue between Greece and Macedonia, speaking for a solution that would be acceptable for both nations.

The statement came after the Greek Foreign Ministry on Monday criticized the Russian Foreign Ministry over comments on the adoption of amendments to the Macedonian constitution on the country's name change as "incompatible" with the level of friendship between the two countries, and described them as an interference in internal affairs.

The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier called the adoption of the amendments a continuation of the artificial name change process imposed from the outside in order to force Skopje to join NATO, which violates the Macedonian legislation, while ignoring the position of the president and the opinion of the majority of the population rejecting the accord.

Greece and Macedonia, officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), have been entangled in a naming dispute for years, with Athens opposing the use of "Macedonia," which is also the name of a region in Greece. The agreement on the new name for Macedonia - the Republic of Northern Macedonia - was signed by Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias on June 17.

The deal paved the way for Macedonia to join the European Union and NATO, which had been earlier blocked by Greece over the name issue.

RUSSIA NOT GLOATING OVER BREXIT

When asked to comment on the defeat of the Brexit deal in the UK House of Commons, Lavrov said that Russia was not "rubbing its hands" or gloating over the deadlock around the UK withdrawal from the European Union, seeing it as London's internal affair.

"We will not say anything about Brexit and do not do it now, although one is constantly saying and reporting that Russia is rubbing its hands and is gloating. Nothing like that. We have always said long before the idea of Brexit has taken shape that we are interested in a united, strong and, most importantly, independent European Union," he stressed.

The statement came after the lower house of the UK parliament voted 432-202 against the withdrawal deal, negotiated by the government with Brussels, further stoking fears of a no-deal Brexit and prompting the opposition to table a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet.