Successful Talk Meets Expectations
Introduction and conclusion by Karl Pomeroy
July 9, 2017
Updated July 10, 2017 (full Lavrov interview)
“Mr Trump’s television image is very different from the real person; he is a very down to earth and direct person, and he has an absolutely adequate attitude towards the person he is talking with; he analyses things pretty fast and answers the questions he is asked or new ones that arise in the course of the discussion.” –Vladimir Putin, July 8, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump conducted a long-awaited intensive discussion at the sidelines of the G20 Meeting in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017. The bilateral talk was highly successful, a meeting of intelligent minds. Official accounts by Lavrov and Putin evidence no discord between the two superpower leaders, as we long ago predicted at Quemado Institute.
Below is a full transcript of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s press release about the historic event. After that, excerpts from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interview on the G20 meeting are presented, with a focus on his talk with President Trump, the Ukraine crisis, and roads to peace in Syria.
Finally, I post an article from Blacklisted News on US-Russian cooperation in Syria, as discussed by Trump and Putin.
Lavrov Discusses Interaction of Presidents Trump and Putin
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to Russian media questions following President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, Hamburg, July 7, 2017
Mid.ru (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation)
July 7, 2017
Updated July 10, 2017 with full Lavrov transcript.
Question: Mr Lavrov, how did this long meeting go?
Sergey Lavrov: If the presidents see that they have issues to discuss and to solve something rather than just exchange opinions, I don’t think that time is of paramount importance. Indeed, they had a very long conversation. My feeling was confirmed that President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Donald Trump are driven by the national interests of their countries and pursue them primarily by seeking to achieve mutually beneficial agreements rather than trying to act out confrontational scenarios and invent problems out of the blue. It was in this concrete and business-like vein that Syria, Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, cyber security and a number of other issues were discussed.
Agreements were reached on some quite concrete things.
First, literally today, Russian, US and Jordanian experts finished work in Jordan’s capital Amman and agreed on a memorandum on de-escalation zones in the south-west of Syria – in Daraa, Quneitra and Souweida. The ceasefire in this zone will come in effect on July 9 at 12 pm Damascus time.
Russia and the United States have undertaken commitments to ensure the ceasefire regime by all the groups present there and also to provide humanitarian access and establish contacts between the opposition in that region and the Monitoring Centre being set up in the capital of Jordan. In the beginning, security around this de-escalation zone will be provided by Russian military police in coordination with Americans and Jordanians.
It is crucial that the document clearly confirms the commitment of Russia, Jordan and the United States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and the UN Security Council resolutions which laid the foundation for promoting a political settlement. This is the agreement that both the presidents welcomed today.
Second. While discussing Ukraine, the US side reported that they had appointed a special envoy to assist in settling the Ukrainian crisis. It was agreed to set up a channel between Russian and US officials so as to use US capabilities for promoting a settlement on the basis of the Minsk agreements and relying on the groundwork laid by the Contact Group and in the Normandy format. We expect that the US envoy on the Ukrainian settlement will arrive shortly in Russia for consultations.
The third issue is cyber security which was understandably given considerable attention. The presidents agreed that this area is becoming ever more dangerous. There are numerous threats emerging in cyber space, including a terrorist threat, threats in other areas of organised crime, such threats to the normal functioning of societies as child pornography, pedophilia, the so-called suicide networks. Of course, President Trump also mentioned that certain circles in the United States keep on spinning the issue of Russia’s interference in the US elections even though they are unable to prove that.
All these issued combined, including fight against terrorism, organised crime, hacking in all its forms, were agreed as subjects of Russian-US interaction. A bilateral working group will be set up for that purpose.
The fourth agreement envisions shorter procedures for appointing new ambassadors, the Russian ambassador to the USA and the US ambassador to Russia.
Question: Was the issue of the Russian diplomatic property on US territory raised?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, it was. We will continue seeking justice.
Question: Did the sides fail to agree on anything on this issue?
Sergey Lavrov: If I said we will continue doing this, it means there is still work to do.
Question: You are a diplomat and you notice details. There are no minor details in diplomacy. What do you think about the atmosphere at the meeting? What set the tone? Where can things go from here in your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: The atmosphere was constructive. As I said in the beginning, the tone was set by the desire of both presidents to promote the national interests of Russia and the United States, respectively. It was determined by the understanding that each country will be able to do this better if we cooperate and seek a balance of interests, and also if we work for stabilisation in different parts of the world, where the situation is very turbulent, be it the Middle East or North Africa, the Korean Peninsula or Afghanistan.
Question: Were there any agreements on Ukraine? US President Donald Trump had proposals on a different plan.
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t remember US President Donald Trump offering some other plan. A lengthy conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today in the morning did not reveal any departures from the Minsk agreements either. Just as during the conversation with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris yesterday, it was stated that the sides are interested in speeding up the implementation of the Minsk agreements and are determined to work toward this.
Question: What was said on Russia’s “interference” in the US election?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already spoken on this subject.
Question: Now you have essentially announced the agreement on the south of Syria. Two days ago the result in Astana was zero although this issue was discussed. Is the Russia-US-Jordan format you mentioned new? Will you put it through Astana later on? Will you discuss it with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan tomorrow?
Sergey Lavrov: Read the May 4 Memorandum approved in Astana. It deals with four de-escalation zones in Syria: northern (in the area of Idlib); a zone a bit to the north of Homs; a zone covering the greater part of Eastern Ghouta and the south-west of Syria. Obviously, it will be very difficult to agree on anything in the south-west without the Jordanians and the Americans who are working with the Jordanians and representing the interests of the coalition in this region. Three other zones were primarily discussed in Astana a couple of days ago. As we said, there is an understanding on how the zones near Homs and Eastern Ghouta should look. The discussion of the northern zone is still going on.
Question: Is it true that US President Donald Trump raised the issue of the alleged Russian interference in the US elections and that he hinted that he does not believe the allegations?
Sergey Lavrov: President Trump said – I am sure that either he himself or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will confirm this – that this campaign is getting increasingly strange, because not a single fact to prove these allegations has been provided over the many months since they were first reported. The Congressmen who led the campaign and who called various members of the US administration out on the carpet have admitted this. President Trump has said that President Vladimir Putin assured him that this is not true and that the Russian authorities did not try to influence US elections. President Trump said he accepted this denial. This is all.
Question: Did they discuss North Korea?
Sergey Lavrov: You don’t seem to be listening. I have said twice that they discussed North Korea. Secretary Tillerson and I have been instructed to continue and strengthen cooperation between our ministries on all international issues, including North Korea, directly, and also at the UN Security Council.
Question: Did they discuss the possibility of the United States joining the Normandy format?
Sergey Lavrov: As I have said, a bilateral channel will be created to support the efforts taken by the Contact Group and in the framework of the Normandy Format.
Question: Did Moscow ask Washington to influence its partners in Kiev?
Sergey Lavrov: This is what we keep asking our partners in Washington and Europe.
Question: And what is the answer?
Sergey Lavrov: The answer is that they want all parties to the Minsk Agreements, including Ukraine as the key party, to implement these agreements. I can tell you that our Western partners, as we see it, are aware of the need to further influence this process, which has ground to a halt.
Question: How would you describe the relationship between President Putin and President Trump? Are they colleagues, partners or possibly even friends?
Sergey Lavrov: This is conjecture. I have told you about the atmosphere at these talks. You can come to your own conclusions.
Question: Has President Trump explained the statement he made in Poland?
Sergey Lavrov: This issue was not discussed. We believe the parties should discuss the issues on the meeting agenda. I have described what was discussed today. I confirm that both presidents have shown the resolve to find solutions that will meet the national interests of Russia, the United States and the international community.
Question: The G20 is an economic forum. Are there plans for a meeting in a political format to discuss political issues?
Sergey Lavrov: The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump was purely political and was held as a side event, which can be held at any meeting, even a sports tournament.
Question: Did they discuss the future of detained Russians, Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko?
Sergey Lavrov: We continue to work on this issue. We believe that this is a clearly humanitarian issue and that our American colleagues will make the right decision and will find a correct solution.
News Conference Following the G20 Summit
President of Russia Vladimir Putin answers journalists’ questions on the results of the two-day G20 Summit.
Kremlin Official Website
July 8, 2017
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. Allow me to skip any statements and monologues. You have seen and heard everything, a great deal. Let us get straight to questions. Go ahead, please.
Question: Mr President, both experts and ordinary people, some of whom are rampaging near this building now, are known to have different opinions on the usefulness of G20 summits. At this summit, for example, there was more talk about your meeting with Mr Trump. And yet which of the issues discussed by the G20 is most relevant for Russia? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: G20 is primarily an economic forum, even though many political and similar issues emerge. Nevertheless, the main issue is the development of the global economy, and this is what received the greatest attention.
Finally, a very big and very sensitive issue is climate change. I think in this respect the Federal Republic of Germany chairing the G20 has managed to reach the best compromise in a difficult situation the chairing nation has found itself in, namely due to the US quitting the Paris Climate Agreement. An agreement was reached, a compromise, when all the countries have recorded that the United States pulled out of the agreement but they are ready to continue cooperating in certain areas and with certain countries on addressing climate change challenges. I think this is a positive result in itself, which can be credited to Chancellor Merkel.
Question: Mr President, your meeting with President Trump was literally the focus of everyone’s attention at the summit. How do you access the results of this meeting? It is no secret that US President had voiced a rather tough rhetoric in Poland, and there had even been unfriendly statements from US media in the run-up to the summit. Did Mr Trump ask you directly about Russia’s interference in the US [presidential] election? Did you like him personally? Do you think you will get along?
Vladimir Putin: The US President asked me this question directly, and we discussed it. And this was not a single question, there were many, and he gave much attention to this issue. Russia’s stance is well-known and I reiterated it. There is no reason to believe that Russia interfered in the US election process.
But what is important is that we have agreed that there should not be any uncertainty in this sphere, especially in the future. By the way, I mentioned at the latest summit session that this directly concerns cyberspace, web resources and so on.
The US President and I have agreed to establish a working group and make joint efforts to monitor security in the cyberspace, ensure full compliance with international laws in this area, and to prevent interference in countries’ internal affairs. Primarily this concerns Russia and the United States. We believe that if we succeed in organising this work – and I have no doubt that we will – there will be no more speculation over this matter.
As regards personal relations, I believe that they have been established. This is how I see it: Mr Trump’s television image is very different from the real person; he is a very down to earth and direct person, and he has an absolutely adequate attitude towards the person he is talking with; he analyses things pretty fast and answers the questions he is asked or new ones that arise in the course of the discussion. So I think that if we build our relations in the vein of our yesterday’s meeting, there are good reasons to believe that we will be able to revive, at least partially, the level of interaction that we need.
Question: To follow up on of your answer, could you please say if President Trump has accepted your denial of Russia’s involvement, Russia’s interference in the US election?
Vladimir Putin: I repeat, he asked many question on this matter. I answered all of his questions as far as I could. I think he took note and agreed. But it would be better if you asked him about what he thinks about it.
Question: Earlier this morning you had a meeting with the French President and the German Chancellor. I assume you had an in-depth discussion on the situation in Ukraine. Did a new vision emerge, and is there any hope that Donbass will come out of the ordeal gripping it right now? Can the discussion of the issue launched with the US President play its role, or do the interests of Russia and the United States still diverge in Ukraine, or may be even oppose each other in some matters? Which, by the way, can be presumed from the background of the US diplomat who was appointed special envoy.
Vladimir Putin: The interests of Russia and Ukraine, the interests of the Russian and Ukraine people – and I am fully and profoundly confident of this – coincide. Our interests fully coincide. The only thing that does not coincide is the interests of the current Ukrainian authorities and some of Ukraine’s political circles. If we are to be objective, of course, both Ukraine and Russia are interested in cooperating with each other, joining their competitive advantages and developing their economies just because we have inherited much from the Soviet era – I am speaking about cooperation, the unified infrastructure and the energy industry, transport, and so on.
But regrettably, today our Ukrainian colleagues believe this can be neglected. They have only one ”product“ left – Russophobia, and they are selling it successfully. Another thing they are selling is the policy of dividing Russia and Ukraine and pulling the two peoples and two nations apart. Some in the West like this; they believe that Russia and Ukraine must not be allowed to get closer in any areas. That is why the current Ukrainian authorities are making active and successful efforts to sell this ”product.“
But I think this will eventually come to an end. Russia, at any rate, wants for this situation to be over as soon as possible.
As regards the United States’ involvement in settling the situation in Ukraine, President Trump and I have talked about this and we agreed – and actually, this has already been done – that a special representative of the administration would be appointed to handle this issue on a permanent basis and to be in constant contact both with Russia and Ukraine, with all the parties interested in settling this conflict.
Question: Mr President, I have a question about the Middle East, which is seething at the moment: Syria, Qatar and other countries. You must have had discussions on Syria at the G20 Summit. How do you assess the prospects for the Syrian settlement after those discussions and after the recent meeting in Astana? Has the stance of the new US Administration on this issue changed or become more constructive, especially in view of yesterday’s agreements?
Vladimir Putin: […] About Syria. Yes, we discussed this issue with almost all of my interlocutors. As for whether the US stance has changed or not – I would say it has become more pragmatic. It does not seem to have changed in general, but there is an understanding now that by combining efforts, we can achieve a lot. Yesterday’s deal on the southern de-escalation zone is clearly the result of this change. You know, others may react as they like, but I can tell you, this is one of the breakthroughs we have made in our work with President Trump. This is a real result of cooperation, including with the United States. Jordan has joined in the effort, and so have several other countries in the region. We have held consultations with Israel and will continue them in the near future. Still, this is a very good result, a breakthrough of a kind. Therefore, if we move the same way in other directions, towards other de-escalation areas…
We have discussed this very thoroughly with the President of Turkey today. This does not entirely depend on us, of course, as much has to do with the controversy between the countries in the region. Everyone has their own concerns, everyone has their own preferences, their own interests, I mean legitimate interests, so this is the way we must treat these – as their legitimate interests; we need to look for compromises.
You know, sometimes we find them. In any case, the fact that active military operations have ceased, the fact that we are now discussing de-escalation zones is a huge step forward.
Now we need to agree on the exact boundaries of these zones, and how security will be ensured there. This is a painstaking, even tedious effort, and it is extremely important and responsible work. Based on the recent positive experience, relying on the good will of Iran, Turkey, and of course, the Syrian Government and President al-Assad, we can take further steps.
The most important thing is – we have actually reaffirmed this, also in the documents establishing this zone in the south on the border with Jordan, and the area that borders on the Golan Heights – the most important thing is to ensure Syria’s territorial integrity, eventually, so that these de-escalation zones become the prototype of regions that could cooperate with each other and with the official Damascus. If we manage to do this, we will lay the groundwork, create the prerequisites for resolving the entire Syrian problem by political means.
Question: Thank you very much, Mr President, for the opportunity to ask you a question on behalf of my television network. We meant to ask you about your meeting with President Trump, but my colleague has already asked the same question. And you said we should ask President Trump about what had happened.
Vladimir Putin: No, I did not. You should ask him about how he sees it, what he thinks about my answers. As to what happened – nothing happened, we did not interfere.
Remark: Unfortunately, the White House offers practically no information about what is going on.
Vladimir Putin: We will give them a piece of our minds (Laughter.)
Remark: Could you just share what President Trump said during your meeting when you told him that Russia had not interfered in the political process?
Vladimir Putin: He started asking probing questions, he was really interested in some details. I gave him fairly detailed answers as much as I could. I told him about my dialogues with the previous administration, including with President Obama. But I do not feel that I have the right to give details of my conversations, say, with President Obama, it is not an accepted practice at this level. I think it would not be quite appropriate of me to give details of our conversation with President Trump. He asked me and I answered him. He asked probing questions, and I offered explanations. I think he was satisfied with those answers.
Remark: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: You are welcome.
Question: You have spoken about the meeting with Mr Erdogan. Could you please elaborate – when you touched upon the issue of the first zone, the northern one, did you discuss the issue of the Kurds and particularly the territory of Afrin, where representatives of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides are present? The Turkish media are already preparing the ground for the Turkish army’s intervention to this area. Also, did you discuss the future of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad with Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan? For instance, Mr Tillerson said yesterday that this person has no future in the Syrian politics. He did not say how and when, but that was what he said.
Vladimir Putin: Let me answer the second question first. Mr Tillerson is a well-regarded man, he received the Russian Order of Friendship, and we feel great respect for him and we like him. But he is not a Syrian citizen, and the future of Syria and President al-Assad as a political figure has to be determined by the Syrian people.
As regards the Kurdish issue, this is a very big and complicated problem. We keep in contact with many Kurdish groups and make no secret of this. But with regard to military support of their activities, here our US colleagues are far ahead of the game; they are making much greater efforts in this regard. Our servicemen – not advisers – who are monitoring the ceasefire are indeed present in many regions of Syria, where the truce agreement has been reached. But speaking of the regions you have mentioned, there are one or two of them there, they are not military units. They are performing the task that everyone is interested in fulfilling. But so far, we are not witnessing any preparations for military action; quite the opposite, we expect that our preliminary developments on establishing the de-escalation zones in several regions – in the Idlib area, in the north – will be accomplished. And this cannot be done without Turkey’s support.
Question: My colleagues here have already recalled the words President Trump said in Warsaw. He made yet another statement about the United States being ready to begin direct supplies of liquefied natural gas to Poland and Central Europe. What do you think of these plans, especially in the context of our plans for the Nord Stream? What if gas becomes a new cause of tension in US-Russian relations?
Vladimir Putin: I view these plans highly positively because healthy competition is good for everyone. We support an open market and healthy competition.
The US President said yesterday during the discussion that the United States stands for open, fair competition. And, by the way, when I spoke, I supported his point. So, we are absolutely all right with this; if it is so, if there is open and fair competition, no political motives or political resources involved, it would be quite acceptable for us. Because to date, it is an obvious fact that any specialist would tell you: the cost of production and delivery of liquefied natural gas from the United States is much higher than our LNG – even LNG – and is not even comparable to Russian pipeline gas. So, there is no doubt that we have an absolute competitive advantage. But to keep it, our market participants must work hard. They need to retain these competitive advantages.
Let us wrap this up. Go ahead, please.
Question: After the first meeting with President Trump, do you think it would be possible to gradually pull Russian-US relations out of deep crisis they are in, or is it difficult to say anything at all yet?
Vladimir Putin: I very much hope so, and it seems to me that we have built certain prerequisites for this.
Thank you very much. All the best.
US and Russia Agree to Ceasefire in Southwest Syria –Lavrov
Blacklisted News (From RT)
July 8, 2017
The US and Russia have agreed on a ceasefire in southwest Syria, set to take effect on July 9 at noon Damascus time, Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced.
Lavrov was speaking following the landmark meeting between the Russian and US presidents on the fringes of the G20 summit.
“In this zone [in southern Daraa, Quneitra and As-Suwayda provinces] the ceasefire regime will take effect on July 9 starting 12:00 Damascus time,” Lavrov said. “The US took an obligation that all the militant groups, located there, will comply with the ceasefire.”
The ceasefire was agreed to by experts from Russia, the US and Jordan, who negotiated a memorandum on the creation of a de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria at talks in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
“At first, the security around this de-escalation zone will be maintained with the help of Russian military police in coordination with the Jordanians and Americans,” Lavrov said.
The ceasefire agreement shows the US and Russia can work together on solving the Syrian crisis, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a separate news conference following the meeting between Putin and Trump.
“I think this is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas,” Reuters cited Tillerson as saying.
The deal is separate from the draft agreement on de-escalation zones, which were to be created under a deal brokered earlier this year during Russia, Turkey and Iran-sponsored talks in Astana between the Syrian government and representatives of the armed opposition.
While the discussions on the borders and mechanisms of de-escalation zones have been ongoing this week, a final agreement has not yet been signed.
The US and Russia had previously negotiated a ceasefire in Syria in September 2016, but it collapsed after US jets bombed a Syrian government position, leading Moscow to wonder if the Pentagon was undermining the State Department’s efforts.
“This will be a matter of trust,” former CIA analyst Ray McGovern told RT. “It’s going to be pretty soon when we find out whether Putin can trust that Trump has enough power not to be subverted.”
Quemado Institute Comment on Syria
By Karl Pomeroy
Our theory about American involvement in Syria is based on three principles: 1) The U.S. is there to fight ISIS; 2) The U.S. will protect its forces; and 3) The U.S. will do whatever is necessary to prevent an Israeli-Syrian war. We’ve maintained this theory, despite some evidence to the contrary, by applying the following interpretation of events:
The American-led coalition strikes on Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah convoys near Al-Tanf are examples of principle 2, according to which the U.S. was protecting its forces against the approach of Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the West. Trump’s Tomahawk strike on Assad’s Shayrat Air Base is an exercise of principle 3. In this case, we assume Trump ordered the strike on the Syrian air base not because Assad allegedly used chemical weapons, but in retaliation for Assad’s downing from that very same air base of an Israeli warplane a few days earlier. Trump’s message to Assad: Do not touch Israel.
Trump’s recent threats to Assad regarding an imminent alleged chemical weapons attack was again a message to the Syrian President: Do not retaliate against Israel for it’s latest strikes from the Golan Heights. This is conceivably part of Trump’s plan to prevent escalation toward an Israeli-Syrian war.
A theory is only as good as its predictive value. Some of our predictions have been borne out, as noted above. Evidence against our theory includes the U.S. establishment an interim government in Raqqa, which looks like nation building, as well as the U.S. downing of a Syrian aircraft near Raqqa, supposedly to protect American rebel allied forces.
The Trump-Putin meeting however seems to confirm our theory. The establishment U.S.-Russia-Jordan de-escalation zone on Syria’s border with Israel will have the effect of halting Israeli attacks on Syrian territory, thus forestalling war between the two nations. It will also assure Israel, for better or worse, that Syria will not attempt to take back its rightful territory in the Golan Heights. This guarantee will stop Israeli aggression.
The truth about America’s and Trump’s intentions in Syria will not be fully known until the U.S. completely withdraws from that sovereign nation.