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Transcript of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov Remarks at Joint Press Conference with Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Habib Ben Yahya on Outcomes of Visit to Tunisia, April 4, 2002

     Foreign Minister Ivanov: First of all I would like to thank President of the Republic of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and my counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Habib Ben Yahya for the cordial welcome. As we have found out, this is the first visit in the history of our relations by a Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Tunisia. At the meeting with President Ben Ali I conveyed to him a personal message from President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, which reiterates Russia's firm intention to develop mutually beneficial many-sided cooperation between our countries.

     During the conversation with the Tunisian President and at the talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs it was noted on both sides that good opportunities currently exist for the development of useful cooperation in the most diverse fields. We have established a good mechanism of consultations on international problems, of which the effectiveness stood out particularly at the time when Tunisia was a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. We agreed to coordinate further our steps in the international arena both on global and on regional problems.

     We also discussed at length the possibilities for expanding our trade and economic partnership, and strengthening contacts in the science and technology field. Interest was expressed in more of our tourists arriving in Tunisia. For our part we will only welcome that.

     Naturally, special attention was devoted to international problems, first and foremost the situation in the Middle East, in particular in the Palestinian territories. Our countries express profound concern over the developments in the region and stand firmly in favor of an immediate termination of all the forms of violence, withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories and resumption of the negotiation process on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1402. The head of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat, who is the lawful and generally recognized leader of the Palestinian people, from our point of view, should be given an opportunity to perform his functions at once. We will be actively seeking to get Security Council Resolutions 1397 and 1402 implemented, both within the framework of UN activity and through other international channels. This position is fully shared by the overwhelming majority of states, as was confirmed at the emergency Security Council session held under the chairmanship of the Russian Federation and in which the representatives of more than 50 nations spoke. We expect that vigorous international efforts will result in both parties complying in full with the provisions envisaged by UNSC Resolution 1402.

     We also considered some variants of joint action directed to normalizing the situation around Iraq. The recent decision of the Arab Summit in Beirut gives some extra opportunities to search for a political settlement and we, of course, will be assisting this. We discussed with the Tunisian side also a number of other international problems, on which I would like to note the concurrence of our stands. We agreed to maintain the closest contacts.

     Question: Igor Sergeyevich, could you comment on the return to Moscow of Andrei Vdovin, the Russian Foreign Minister's special envoy for Middle East settlement?

     Foreign Minister Ivanov: During the last few days the special representatives of Russia, the US, the European Union and the UN made vigorous efforts aimed at achieving the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1402. They raised the question of a collective meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian National Authority Head Yasser Arafat. Unfortunately, the opportunity for meeting with Arafat was not provided. Resolution 1402 is not being implemented, the situation is continuing to aggravate. Under these conditions the need arises to take counsel as to how to act further. Ambassador Vdovin was called to Moscow for several days precisely for this purpose. I do not rule out that in the event of the situation developing further along these lines it will become necessary to consider a new resolution in the Security Council which would point to the use of measures envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations in order to force the parties to comply with this resolution.

     Question: Europeans have proposed convening an international conference on settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How do you feel about this proposal? And the second question. You and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been saying that the Israelis have the right to defend themselves against terrorists. Does this not mean Russia's abandonment of the positions which it held previously?

     Foreign Minister Ivanov: Russia will support any initiatives which will help to find a way out of the present crisis situation. As far as the struggle against terrorism is concerned, Russia has always firmly stood for combining the efforts of the international community in the struggle against this evil of the 21st century. Each state, including Israel, has the right to individual and multilateral efforts to fight terrorism if it is subjected to that threat.

     At the same time terrorism cannot be identified with Islam or a people. The Palestinian people cannot bear the responsibility for the actions of some or other terrorist organizations. The struggle against terrorism cannot serve as a ground for liquidating the structures of the Palestinian Authority, which might lead to the liquidation of the Palestinian autonomy as a whole.

     Question: The foreign ministers conference of the member countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, of which 57 states are members, called for the implementation of Resolution 1402 and for the adoption of necessary measures, including force-based measures, in order to make Israel do that. How do you assess this decision?

     Foreign Minister Ivanov: We believe the calls of international organizations should be regarded most seriously, and hope that they will be heeded and that violence will be brought to an end.

     Question: What else can Russia and other states undertake to settle this conflict?

     Foreign Minister Ivanov: I want to assure you that Russia and the Arab and European countries have been making their utmost efforts in order to halt this tragedy. We are trying to use every possibility given us by the UN Charter and international law. The task is also to prevent this tragedy from growing into a wider regional problem, which would complicate the search of a way out of this situation further still.

     Question: Some point of no return has already been crossed in the Middle East. Does this mean that the logic of war has become predominant in the region, and what in this situation does Russia intend to do?

     Foreign Minister Ivanov: Of course, each day of this conflict throws back the efforts that have been taken by the international community in the interests of Middle East settlement. At the same time, if Israel and the Arab states want to live in peace and security, a political settlement is the only way for attaining this objective. Therefore we will be forced to return to negotiations. The earlier we do that, the easier it will be to resume the dialogue.

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