Secretary of State John Kerry Press Availability with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

MODERATOR:  (In progress) (Via interpreter) ready to start the press conference.  Heads of the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. and Russia.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, thanks a lot for your patience and waiting till the end of all today’s negotiations.  Our negotiations took place in (inaudible) the presidential part has just ended, and before that we took very substantive negotiations of the ministerial level with my counterpart Mr. Kerry.

Let me tell you straight ahead that our meeting has taken place during the days of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Second World War.  And we started our today’s events with the common ceremony of laying the wreath to the war memorial.  That war memorial was built in honor and in memory of the victims of the World War II, and I believe that all the people of Sochi highly appreciated that Secretary Kerry visited the war memorial.

During our negotiations, both at the ministerial level and during the conversation with the president, we discussed the most pressing issues of the modern world.  We touched upon counteracting terrorism and other contemporary threats, as well as ensuring security and stability.  We also discussed the factors that influence achieving the task of maintaining strategic stability.

One of the key issues in our discussion was the crisis in the Ukraine.  There are certain contradiction and divergences between Russia and the U.S., as related to the origins of the crisis and our contemporary assessments of the way it is developing.  But we definitely shared a view that it is only possible to resolve the issue through peaceful ways – through a comprehensive and full implementation of the Minsk agreements.  And of course, it requires to launch a full-fledged dialogue between Kyiv on the one hand and Donetsk and Luhansk on the other hand.

This is enshrined in the Minsk agreements that were adopted on the 12th of February.  They envisage a launch of the constitutional reform, with due consideration of the opinion of people from Donetsk and Luhansk.  It also envisages holding the local elections, as well as resolving the issues related to the blockade that had been introduced by Kyiv towards Donetsk and Luhansk.  So all the provisions of the Minsk agreements are fully required to be implemented.  We, Secretary Kerry and I, agreed to (inaudible) implement all the agreements that had been achieved in Minsk.

We also discussed the ways to settle the conflict in Syria.  We agreed to continue or probably even to build up our efforts and that – ensuring the launch of the process that could lead to implementing the agreements that we envisage in the Geneva communique adopted on the 30th of June.

And we also agreed that the problem of the ISIL’s activities, as well as the activities of Jabhat al-Nusrah are also very dangerous.  Those armed groups are getting even more powerful, and they are threatening the peace not only in the Middle East region but also beyond it.  We are absolutely convinced that it is necessary to join our efforts and act together more efficiently.  It requires efforts of all leading powers.  We believe that it is absolutely necessary to consistently fight that evil with no double standards based on the universally recognized principles of international law.

Among other things, we shared our views on the implementation of our agreements aimed at resolving the Iran’s nuclear program.  We also discussed the situation in Yemen, Libya, and other Middle East countries.  We also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, in the Korean Peninsula, and we emphasize that both U.S. and Russia are advocating denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Of course, we discussed the state of our bilateral relations, including some specific irritators that have been in place recently.  But in a broader context, we also discussed our views related to bigger problems that had been accumulating for several years.  Sometimes our opinions diverged and we did not always find common understanding of the issues.  But we fully understand that it is absolutely necessary to avoid any steps that could further detriment relations between Russia and U.S.  We believe that it is necessary to continue the cooperation between our countries, especially given the fact that resolution of many international problems really depends on our joint efforts – on the joint efforts of Russia and the U.S. – and I believe this is one of the main ideas about today’s negotiations, one of the main conclusions and outcomes of today.

Our president firmly emphasized that we are ready for as broad cooperation as possible and as close interaction as possible with the U.S.A. based on equal rights and mutual respect of interests and positions of each other.  I’m very grateful to you, Secretary Kerry, for this long and productive day.  The floor is yours.  Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, thank you very much, Foreign Minister Lavrov, Sergey.  I greatly appreciate your comments just now and I agree with your summary of the day.  I’m particularly glad to be here in Sochi, and I really want to start by thanking President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov for hosting our discussions here today – excuse me.  Sergey and I talk pretty regularly, but we rarely have the chance to be able to speak for as long as we did today, as uninterrupted as it was today, and obviously there are a number of very critical issues that President Obama wanted me to be able to share with President Putin and with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

As all of you know, we have just in the last days celebrated the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the day that the United States, Russia, and our allies defeated the scourge of Nazism.  And earlier today, I had the privilege of attending, with the mayor of Sochi and with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the war memorial here in Sochi where more than 4,000 of the millions of courageous then-Soviets who died in World War II are buried.  And it’s a very beautiful memorial and I was very moved by the young children who were there taking part in the ceremony.  And I think Sergey and I both came away from this ceremony with a very powerful reminder of the sacrifices that we shared to bring about a safer world, and of what our nations can accomplish when our peoples are working together towards the same goal.

We are obviously in the midst of a challenging time.  And here in Sochi today, I was privileged to spend many hours with Foreign Minister Lavrov and with President Putin discussing a number of global issues on which both of our countries are very focused.  I’m grateful to President Putin for the significant amount of time that he made available to this discussion, for his directness, and for his very detailed explanations of Russia’s position with respect to some of these challenges, and of the ways that he believed that we have an ability to be able to work constructively together in order to resolve these problems.

I think the fact that leaps out at me, certainly, from this day’s discussions which is precisely what brought me here in the first place, is that there is no substitute for talking directly to key decision makers, particularly during a period that is as complex and fast-moving as this is.  To start with, as Sergey said, we discussed Iran, where Russia and the United States and our other P5+1 partners are working very hard through the nuclear negotiations with Iran.  We are now coming into the last six weeks of those negotiations.  And we all understand that unity has been key to bringing us where we are today.  It is also going to be the key to completing a good deal and to our being confident that that deal will be able to be well-implemented.  The United States and Russia remain closely aligned in this effort, as do the rest of our P5+1 allies and friends, EU partners.

We also discussed today the real and present danger of Daesh – ISIL, as many call it – and while Russia is not a formal member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Russia is a very important partner in the global effort against violent extremism.  And countering violent extremism is a first-order priority for both Russia and the United States.  No one should doubt that the reach of groups like Daesh extends far beyond the particular region of its operations, and it affects every single one of us – the United States, Russia, and the rest of the world.  And we are in unity with respect to our commitment to continue to push back against Daesh, and ultimately, to drive Daesh out of Iraq, out of Syria, and to eliminate it as a threat to any of us.

From the Geneva communique to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, I would emphasize that we have seen what happens when Russia and the United States work together.  It is clearly possible to make real progress and make important things happen.  And Sergey just referenced that in his comments.  I would underscore it myself.  And it is that confidence in our ability to be able to make a difference on some important issues that help to bring us here today to discuss the road ahead.  There is an urgent need, we agree, for that same kind of cooperation that brought about the removal of weapons from Syria – chemical weapons – that has characterized our cooperation on Iran.  The same kind of effort is now necessary on some other challenges that we face together.

For one thing, while we have come a long way with respect to the chemical weapons, we also both see reports of the current potential attacks on innocent people.  In addition, the threat of violent extremism in the region continues to grow.  And as we’ve said many times, the United States believes that Syria will never be at peace until there is a political solution, a political transition in Syria.  What we need is that political outcome, and negotiated by and for Syrians, and supported and facilitated by key external powers.

So today, we discussed at some length how the United States and Russia might work together on this in the days ahead, and Foreign Minister Lavrov and I agreed to examine specific concepts, but more importantly, to continue that conversation in the coming weeks with increased focus and purpose.

We also discussed other regional issues – Libya, Yemen, and President Obama’s upcoming summit with the GCC countries.  And of course, we did spend time on Ukraine, as Sergey has mentioned.  I reiterated America’s view that the Minsk agreements are absolutely, in our judgment, by far the best path, the principal path, to peace, and those agreements must be fully implemented, the sooner the better.

I must say we found a fair amount of agreement even as Sergey has accurately disclosed that we continue to disagree on certain components of the walkup to it or certain facts, but we are both in significant agreement on the most important issue of all, which is it will be resolved by the full implementation of Minsk, and we both – all of us and other friends and allies – have responsibilities to undertake in order to effect that implementation.  If and when Minsk is fully implemented, it is clear the U.S. and EU sanctions can begin to be rolled back.

But I also made clear our deep concerns regarding the situation on the ground – continued perceived violations of ceasefire in Shyrokyne and at the Donetsk airport; the continued arming, training, command and control of separate forces.  And we believe that this fighting, the fighting that is taking place as a result of this – on any side, whoever has instigated it – that it has gone on for too long.  And today, I underscored the steps that the United States hopes to see taken by the parties in the coming – excuse me – in the coming days and weeks.

We really believe that a genuine ceasefire in Shyrokyne needs to be undertaken.  I think Sergey and President Putin agreed that that is important, as well as the withdrawal of weapons and the demilitarization and monitoring by the OSCE.

Second, there needs to be a real discussion within the Minsk political working groups regarding the path to elections in the Donbas, elections that could be monitored properly and conformed to the Ukrainian constitution, as it set out in Minsk, and also regarding the decentralization that is important, the decentralization status that is important for that region.

We also believe that humanitarian access needs to gain greater freedom of movement – and important very much to the Ukrainian and the U.S. and the UN agencies.  We would like, clearly, to see the release of political prisoners, including Nadia Savchenko, and finally, the inspection by the OSCE or IRCC – ICRC of cargo that travels into Ukraine, including humanitarian cargo.

Now, all of these steps can and we believe should be taken quickly, and all of them would make a real difference to the quality of life in Donbas.  And they would give all of us the confidence that we need that Minsk is going to be fully implemented and that the conflict can come to an end with that full implementation.

Obviously, I want to leave time for questions, but I want to again say thank you to Russia, to Foreign Minister Lavrov for his very generous welcome here to Sochi today.  This was an important visit at an important time, and we didn’t come here with an expectation that we were going to define a specific path forward with respect to one crisis or another, or have a major breakthrough.  We came here purposefully to have a very full and open dialogue with Russia’s leaders, the kind of dialogue that is absolutely essential in making progress on the many challenges that we face today.

And I am particularly grateful and I want to express my appreciation to President Putin for the very significant and serious conversation that he engaged in for the very significant amount of time that he committed to this discussion.  And I express President Obama’s gratitude for Russia’s willingness to engage in this discussion at a time when the exchange of views could not be more important.  So we thank them for talking through these issues face-to-face as we try to come together and find workable solutions to very important issues to all of us.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Dear colleagues, now let us proceed to your question.  The first question is for the U.S. side.

MS HARF:  Matt Lee of the Associated Press, and I think there’s a microphone coming.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Is this working?  It’s been a long day, so I’ll be as brief as possible.  But there’s so much to go over, it’s a multi-part question.  These are for both ministers, please.

Your governments routinely accuse each other of spreading misinformation about the situation in Ukraine and the ceasefire violations.  What is the real truth here?  Are both sides violating the terms of the Minsk agreement, or is it just one side or some sides of it?  And what exactly are you going to do to rein this in and get into compliance?

One (b) would be on Syria.  You said you agreed to build up and examine new specific concepts on the political transition plan.  What are those new concepts, and how exactly are you going to address the concerns about the reports of new chemical weapons use?

Lastly on Iran, Secretary Kerry, did you ask the Russians again to hold off on the transfer of the S-300 missile system?  And Minister Lavrov, if he did, what is the Russian response to that?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  I will make your life easy.  He didn’t.

QUESTION:  He didn’t.

SECRETARY KERRY:  I’ll begin with the last first.  I think it is known that we have concerns about the transfer of the S-300, but it is also known that this has been a transfer that was, I think, almost five years ago in the making and was contemplated in the UN resolution as a transfer that was permissible.  So it’s not a question of any law or rule or judgment being broken; it’s a question of timing, in our judgment, as well as impact.  But we have already talked about it previously and we did not go into it today.

With respect to the issue of violations, et cetera, my sense is, Matt, that we’ve had that conversation today.  We’ve talked about the perceptions of violations.  What’s important is now to make sure that both sides are making the choices to move forward in implementing the Minsk agreement in its full measure.

And I had a brief conversation with President Poroshenko yesterday.  I will have a further conversation with him to debrief him with respect to the meetings here today.  And I urge him as I urged the Russians today:  Everybody who has any control over anybody needs to take every step possible to fully implement Minsk, and clearly, that means including preventing any breaches whatsoever with respect to the ceasefire.

We talked today about the movement of heavy weapons.  We talked today about the need to, particularly, as I talked about a moment ago in Shyrokyne, hopefully that is a ceasefire that might be able to be negotiated in full.  I certainly called attention to the fact that whichever side is responsible for firing the first shot, there is not yet a full implementation of the ceasefire that was contemplated by Minsk, and we need to work harder in order to try to see that be put into full effect.  We are going to engage with all parties in an effort to try to encourage that to happen.

I will tell you that both the president – President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov reiterated their desire to see Minsk fully implemented, and we talked about ways in which we might be able to accelerate that and break down some of the mistrust on both sides which has prevented that from happening.

With respect to Syria, I’m not going to go into any details about the conversation except to say that we both understand and fully accept the degree to which the situation in Syria is increasingly not only unsustainable, but dangerous for the region.  We both agree that the rise of Daesh within Syria and the increased efforts of other extremist groups threatens not only the Assad regime itself, but threatens the region as a consequence, and that it is even more urgent for all of us to find willing partners who are prepared to do what is necessary to be able to implement the principles of Geneva, which are a transition to a government that can be secular, maintain the institutions of the state, and transition to peace and stability, protecting all of the minorities and all of the people of Syria simultaneously.  That’s the goal, and we intend to redouble our efforts jointly in order to try to reach it.

On the CW, we talked about exchanging specific information regarding the current situation, which we will do.  And subsequent to that, we’ll see what our mutual observations are about that information and what steps might be appropriate.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  (Via interpreter)  On my behalf, I’d like to say the following.  I agree that John – I agree with John that the ceasefire violations – ceasefire regime violations are still taking place, that the violations of heavy equipment withdrawal are still taking place.  Sometimes they occur more often on one side, sometimes on the other.

Today we discussed that just in general terms and we discussed the reports presented by the special monitoring mission of the OSCE.  The monitors are carrying out their job quite professionally, though sometimes public officials declare that the monitors are biased, though I do not think that such behavior is in accordance with the Minsk agreements.  I know that the – I hope that the Ukrainian authorities have made some conclusions in accordance with the measures that the OSCE monitors took.

There is one more mechanism, which is the Joint Center of Coordination and Control, that is to monitor the withdrawal of heavy armaments.  The center was created based on the request of President Poroshenko.  Several teams of Russian and Ukrainian officials are working there, and they established quite a good mode of cooperation and they are cooperating with the OSCE monitoring mission as well.  They have a very good professional relationship.  They have understanding at the personal level, and I believe it is also a very good mechanism of monitoring the violations of the regime.  We all hope to reduce the number of violations and in prospect to eliminate violations at all.

Mr. Kerry mentioned some incidents near the engagement line.  We’d prefer to call it a disengagement line.  We’d prefer it to be a disengagement line, actually.  During the preparation for the contact group meeting and the work of its subgroups on the May 6th in Minsk, there were some drafts developed; one of them was dealing with the demilitarization of Shyrokyne and there was another draft that was actually a proposal aimed at supplementing Minsk agreements with withdrawing tanks and armaments with the caliber below 100 millimeters, including mortars.

The representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk were ready to sign the document, as well as the representatives of Russia in the contact group.  And as far as I understand, the OSCE representatives to the contact group also were ready to sign that.  But the document was not signed and the discussion will continue during the meeting of the subgroup on security that is going to take place this week.  I hope that if these documents are signed and are starting to be implemented, it will definitely help us to reduce the risks of ceasefire violations and it will help us to implement all the provisions aimed at withdrawing heavy elements more efficiently.

As for Syria, I agree to Mr. Kerry that we work together to be able to find out the best ways to implement the Geneva communique – of Geneva communique as of 30th of June.  The key task of Geneva communique is to resolve all the issues through a direct dialogue of all Syrian parties and to be able to reach agreements on all the necessary reforms, including on transition based on the mutual consent of Syrian parties.

We have been taking every effort to stimulate work in that direction.  After two years ago in Montreux, there was a conference that we participated in – and that was followed by the negotiations between the delegation of the opposition of Syria’s national coalition and the Government of Syria – it quickly became clear that it was absolutely necessary to make the delegation of the opposition as representative as possible.  We have always stated that it was necessary to engage all the groups – as many groups as possible – through the opposition delegation, including the groups that are not part to the national coalition.

With that view, in Cairo, with the efforts that Egypt has been taking, we organized two meetings in Moscow.  All opposition groups without any exception were invited to take part in that meeting.  There were two meetings, and at final stages the delegations were joined by the delegation of the Syrian Government.  Those meetings were indeed very useful, and the last contact in Moscow resulted in agreeing the document that is called Moscow platform.  We regret that the coalition did not attend the meeting, and as far as I understand, they experienced some problems with – in relation with attending the conference that Mr. de Mistura is starting now.

With regard to Syria, our positions with our U.S. partners are very similar.  We believe that this process should be representatives, but given the contradictions within the opposition groups themselves, it is very important that all the external actors that can influence these other group have to encourage them to continue negotiations and to implement the Geneva communique as of June 30th.  And it requires work with different Syrian groups and units, and it also requires participation of some external actors.  We have discussed that today as well.  We have various ideas regarding the issue, and I hope that we’ll continue discussion both between Russia and the U.S. and maybe with other countries – with the countries of the region as well as the states that can also participate in the process.

And regarding the most recent report about chemical weapons and the use of chemical weapons in Syria, let me say that we’ve seen the report and we believe that there is a certain directorate of the UN Organization on Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that has to deal with this report.  They really have to implement a thorough investigation and to prevent any efforts similar to those that we witnessed in August of 2014.  There should be no attempts to use the issue of alleged use of chemical weapons to exercise any political pressure.  Sometimes those attempts were taken to encourage the use of force against Syrian Government.  (Inaudible.)  That’s it I wanted to say.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Now the question of the Russian mass media.  (Inaudible), TV Channel Russia.  If you don’t mind, let me continue the topic of Minsk agreements.  Mr. Kerry, you’ve said several times that Minsk agreements is the best way to proceed to settle the Ukraine conflict.  What can you say about what Mr. Poroshenko said when talking to the representatives of Kyiv army when he said that they are going to gain back the Donetsk airport?

And my next question goes to Mr. Lavrov.  We all know that U.S. is really very capable of influencing the current Kyiv authorities.  Could you please dwell more on that?  How do you think the U.S. can influence the Kyiv authorities in order to settle the crisis in the Ukraine?  Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, thank you very much.  I have not had a chance – I have not read the speech.  I haven’t seen any context.  I have simply heard about it in the course of today.  But if indeed President Poroshenko is advocating an engagement in a forceful effort at this time, we would strongly urge him to think twice not to engage in that kind of activity, that that would put Minsk in serious jeopardy.  And we would be very, very concerned about what the consequences of that kind of action at this time may be.

Now, it may be he was talking about in the long term.  He may have been talking about the context of a final resolution or settlement; I don’t know the answer to that.  But I do know that resort to force by any party at this point in time would be extremely destructive at a moment when everyone has brought together the working groups, the working groups have met, and the working groups have an ability to try to provide a path forward on all of those issues that many of us have been concerned about over the course of the last months.  My strongest urging would be for everybody to give the working groups their effort, to stay invested in the Minsk agreement, to continue to push for the political resolution, and to hold back anybody from engaging in self-help through force.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  (Via interpreter)  Let me tell you that I absolutely agree to what John Kerry – John has just said, that any attempts to engage again in a forceful scenario could be really undermining the efforts that we have been taking.  Let me emphasize one more time that we have to strictly follow our path to implementing the Minsk agreements.  Russia and the U.S. fully share an opinion that we have to provide for their full implementation.  And today, we agreed to take every effort in order to intensify the process and to speed it up as much as possible.

We discussed also the specific measures that we could take.  But let me only tell you that various countries maintain contacts with the Kyiv authorities and with the representatives of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics.  And we agreed to have meetings with everyone that can affect the implementation of Minsk agreements.  We are going to encourage all the sides to the conflict to implement every provision of the Minsk agreements.  While the methods to ensure that can vary and the forms of our cooperation can be various, we are fully aware of what diplomatic mechanisms are available, and we are going to further use them.

Thanks a lot for your participation in the press conference.  That was our final question.  Thank you.