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Press conference with Russian Foreign Minister

02 Nov 2009

David Miliband held a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Lavrov in 2 November during his visit to Moscow.
Speaker: David Miliband and Sergei Lavrov
Location: Moscow
David Miliband and Sergei Lavrov on 2 November. Getty Images

David Miliband (DM):  It's now been sixteen or seventeen hours since I arrived yesterday.  We had dinner and private talks last night and then the formal talks today. 

I think that our discussions have been marked by mutual respect, personal but also between our countries.  Secondly principled engagement on very substantive issues and thirdly a genuine search for common ground and common action.  We’re two countries with important Security Council responsibilities and we’re operating in an extremely challenging global environment and I would say that our talks have been substantive and productive. 

The detailed statements that have been agreed between us and which will be distributed to you I think speak to a real determination to work together, not just at the level of Ministers, but also at the levels of officials and they’ll be increasing official contacts following this.  As a result of our talks, I think we can say that not only do we understand each other better, but we are going to find ways to work together better.

On non proliferation I very much welcome the strength of the statement that has been agreed today.  I think we both have a sense that as a result of the joint leadership of President Medvedev and President Obama there is a new opportunity in respect of the Non Proliferation Treaty and its review next year and I think the five Security Council members are going to work closely together in the run up to that conference.

We have talked about the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear programme.  We both want to see a prompt response from the Iranian regime in respect of the Tehran research reactor proposal.  We both want to see a positive response to the offer that was agreed by the E3 +3 last May, in May 2008.  And we also want to see the report from the IAEA of their visit to Qom.

Now in respect of Afghanistan, this is obviously a key issue for both countries, it’s an issue where things are moving fast.  From my point of view I think the development of a programme which embodies the hopes and aspirations of a large majority of the Afghan people from their new Government is going to be absolutely essential to provide, not just progress for them, but also a real partner for the international community.

On the Middle East, my reflection is that there is greater international consensus now than ever before on the contours of an agreement, but also great concern about the difficulty of getting the two sides in to a process that can really make progress.  You’ll see from our statement, our statement of national positions on the long term goals, which are clear, but also shared support for the American led process.

We have discussed European security in some detail, both yesterday and today, shared perspectives, but also some different perspectives.  I think it’s very important to pick up the theme of Sergei Lavrov’s comments that we don’t paper over our differences, but we don’t allow them to block co-operation where possible. 

While I’m here I’ve already met businesses, I’ll be meeting NGOs and I think President Medvedev’s emphasis on the rule of law and human rights is something that struck a chord around the world and it’s something that we want to understand, it’s something that we take seriously at home and abroad.

Let me just conclude on the bilateral front.  The cultural and business links that are growing are testimony to the importance of the UK Russia relationship.  That is reflected now at Governmental level, not just on issues of economy and foreign policy, but also on energy, climate change and other issues.  I’m very pleased about the cultural programme which continues a fine tradition.

So this is an important relationship.  I think this meeting over the last day has added depth and drive to the UK Russia relationship.  It’s a mark of the respect I believe that we hold each other that we don’t hide our differences, but that we work very hard to find common ground and to promote common action.
So once again many thanks to Sergei Lavrov for his hospitality and for the spirit and substance of the talks.  Thank you very much.

(Sergei Lavrov speaks in Russian)

DM:  Well it’s for the US and Russia to (indistinct).  They account for some ninety per cent of the nuclear weapons in the world.  There are responsibilities on nuclear weapon states like the UK.  We have engaged in significant disarmament since the end of the Cold War, significant reductions in our own missile numbers and I think that is an important contribution.  And I very much look forward to the successful conclusion of the US Russia talks and then their broadening out in to a multi lateral nuclear disarmament drive that is the essential counterpart of our drive to limit nuclear proliferation.  And you’ll see from the statement that we issue today that both of our countries are very strongly committed to all three of the foundations of the Non Proliferation Treaty, a responsibility on the nuclear weapon states to disarm, a responsibility on the non nuclear weapon states not to proliferate and the opportunity for all states to develop their civilian nuclear power. 

(Sergei Lavrov speaks in Russian)

Conor Sweeney (Reuters):  Could you tell us please if you could give us some detail on what Iran is proposing as its own counter offer to Mr El Baradei’s proposals?  Whether you can, it’s something that Russia feels it can work with and has the shape of a positive answer. 

And, and to both Ministers there has of course been many disagreements within the P5 about what form of sanctions there might be in the future.  Have you narrowed your differences on, on what kind of sanctions you’d be prepared to consider?

(Sergei Lavrov speaks in Russian)

DM:  Well on the Tehran research reactor proposal I think we want to see a prompt response.  Secretary El Baradei has, Director General El Baradei has given another forty eight hours to the Iranians to come up with a serious response and that’s what we all want to see. 

I would highlight the importance of what Sergei Lavrov has said though about the third issue which he described as the most important because that is the sustainable way in which to resolve the concerns over the Iranian nuclear programme.  We agreed the terms of the offer to Iran in May 2008 and Sergei Lavrov participated in London, I was obviously there.  And the truth is that Iran can be treated as a normal country for nuclear matters if it behaves like a normal country in respect of its responsibilities.  Because in all cases rights have to be matched by responsibilities.  And it is engagement around that E3 +3 proposal that needs to provide the foundation for a sustainable conclusion to this long running affair. 

And I think it’s very important to say that we stand foursquare behind the E3 +3 offer and the E3 +3 statement of September this year which was absolutely clear about the next steps in this which are for the E3 +3 to meet Iran.  That first meeting happened on the 1st of October.  It’s essential that that meeting is followed up in substantive terms.

Amanda Walker (Sky News):  Mr Miliband, how far are you willing to go with your request for Andrei Lugovoy’s extradition and are you concerned that that insistence might jeopardise other issues that you’re hoping to make progress on?  And Mr Lavrov what is your current position on Mr Lugovoy’s extradition?

DM:  We did discuss this issue in some detail.  I emphasised the importance that we continue to attach to the three requests that were made by our independent prosecuting authorities in respect of the murder of Mr Litvinenko.  We’ll continue to seek justice for him.  I believe it’s an important part of our modern relationship with Russia that we can be clear about these issues.  We can stress their importance we can continue to be absolutely open about the importance that we attach to them and we don’t trade them off in the way that you have implied in your question. 

Instead we say that there are other areas where there is more common ground and where we are determined to work together and I think that that is as I say a measure of the way in which this relationship has developed, that it’s principled, it’s hard headed on both sides.  But it also recognises that there are important areas of common ground alongside  well publicised areas of difference and we don't compromise on the areas of difference by searching for common ground in other areas.  We explain and we develop a relationship that has depth and breadth.

(Sergei Lavrov speaks in Russian)

DM:  … No one benefits from the absence of negotiations but the negotiations need to be a credible route to a credible two state solution.  That is the work that is being undertaken with strong international support by the Americans.  It’s something that is badly needed in all of our national interests.

I would mention one further aspect which relates to the proposal for a Moscow conference and that is the importance of a regional approach.  You represent a group of Arab news agencies, I think that the conclusion of this long running saga will only be possible if there is full engagement from the whole of the Arab world, not just from the Palestinians in negotiating with the Israelis and I think that the multi lateral engagement on this is going to be vital if this is to build on the start of talks which we very much hope the Americans, the Israelis and the Palestinians will be able to agree.

Bridget Kendall (BBC): A couple of follow ups on things that have been mentioned already to David Miliband.  The Russian Foreign Minister said that if the necessary information was provided the Russian prosecutor could start legal proceedings here with regard to the Litvinenko inquiry.  What stands in the way of Britain providing that information?

And to you Mr Lavrov, on the question of nuclear weapons, President Obama has said very publicly in a speech in Prague that he seeks eventually moving towards a nuclear free world, but if you look at Russia’s defence policy there is a reliance by Russia on its nuclear armaments to defend the country.  Does that mean that that makes it impossible for Russia to work towards a situation where it gets rid of all its nuclear weapons?

DM:  In respect of the first question, the horrific murder in 2006 of Mr Litvinenko has been followed up by our independent prosecuting authorities and they have sent substantial information to their Russian counterparts.  I have every reason to believe that the work of the Crown Prosecution Service has been full and has engaged in all the appropriate mechanisms for international co-operation on this issue.

(Sergei Lavrov speaks in Russian) 

DM:  What I would say is that we are not allowing bilateral differences either to obscure bilateral strengths in our relationship, whether of culture, of business or of politics.  Nor are we going to allow bilateral differences to stand in our way in working together on the international stage. 

And I think it is very important that countries like Britain and Russia do show leadership on the international stage.  We are living in a multi polar world which I think is not philosophy, but it gets above the day to day.  We are living in a multi polar world and if countries like Britain and Russia are not able to work together then the world will be a less safe, less sustainable and less equal place and that is dangerous for all of us.  And I think that whether Sergei Lavrov referred to the fact that we worked together in a number of fora and I think that’s important as well, both of us, the, we work together in the United Nations Security Council, the US Russian relationship is being developed in a strategic way.  We want the EU Russia relationship to develop in a strong and sensible way.  So I think that that is the truth about the depth and drive that you’ve seen in the relationship today.

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