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Transcript of Remarks and Replies to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov After Meeting with Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunis, November 24, 2005


Foreign Minister Lavrov: The talks that took place in Tunis, and especially today's conversation with the President of Tunisia, Mr. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, have borne out that our two countries have very good prospects for the further deepening of cooperation in all fields.

President Ben Ali fully supported the disposition of the Russian leadership for bringing trade-and-economic relations to the level which we have reached in our political dialogue and cooperation as well.

We already have quite good results in the area of bilateral ties. It is the growth in number of Russian tourists visiting Tunisia - one hundred thousand Russians visited this country last year - and the development of cooperation in public health - Russian doctors work in Tunisia - and in the field of education - Russian instructors also work here. Cultural ties are developing very intensively - thirteen performances of Russian groups have taken place during the year, and Days of Tunisia have already become a tradition in Moscow.

We agreed to do everything to ensure that the upcoming session in the first half of the next year of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade-and-Economic Cooperation helps to activate some new forms of collaboration between our business circles, including that under the auspices of the Russian and Tunisian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and by the enlistment in joint projects of business circles from Russia's regions.

Russia and Tunisia hold common positions on fundamental issues of international relations, including the necessity to fight resolutely against any manifestations of terrorism while simultaneously building up efforts which would be directed to the elimination of poverty, illiteracy and backwardness as the breeding ground for extremists of every ilk.

We also concur that it is necessary to tackle all contemporary problems, including the problems of this not simple region, on the basis of collective approaches, on the basis of international law and under the aegis of the United Nations Organization.

We agreed on a further schedule of political contacts. I am certain that the talks held here will help advance the excellent Russian-Tunisian relations even further. The good personal relationship between the two presidents, who held a regular meeting as they attended the Millennium Summit in New York, are an earnest of this.

Question: Did you discuss with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali the possibility of new efforts by the Quartet, in which Russia takes part, to bring the approaches of Israel and the Palestinians closer, in order to return them to the negotiating table after the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Gaza?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: In general terms, we affirmed the identity of our positions on the various aspects of Middle East settlement.

The position which the Quartet has already stated at the ministers level, including this past September, retain validity. It envisages continued efforts for the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, so as to fully realize the Road Map. This position remains valid.

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, is it possible to speak of at least an approximate date for the creation of specialized Russian-Tunisian expert groups on counter-terrorism?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We have already established a dialogue on antiterrorist problems. It is going on between the foreign ministries as well as between law enforcement agencies and special services. This dialogue will be developed. Both Russia and Tunisia are interested in this. Just what forms it will take - whether they are called specialized groups or differently - I don't think it matters. The main thing is that the content of this dialogue is becoming ever more specific.

Question: Will Russia use its possibilities to prevent a possible imposition of sanctions against Iran?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I haven't heard that somebody was suggesting imposing sanctions against Iran. Today the IAEA Board of Governors is considering a regular report of Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. This report states further progress in closing the various questions related to the Iranian nuclear program. We fully support the continuation of the IAEA work in Iran.

Question: How do you generally assess the outcome of your visit to the countries of North Africa? What priority questions were in the center of attention?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The common thing for all three visits was a reciprocal striving to develop trade-and-economic ties and to bring these ties to the level of the political dialogue, which between Russia and each of the three countries is very high. Another common thing for all three visits was the serious concern over the situation in the Middle East and in the adjacent areas, primarily due to the unsettledness of the situation in Palestinian-Israeli relations, though there are definite optimistic expectations here. Also over the continuing crisis situation in Iraq and over the fact that the situation around Syria and Lebanon remains uncertain.

Special anxiety was voiced over the fact that extremist forces are rearing their heads in this region. In all the three capitals which I visited, we all concurred that it is inadmissible to flirt with extremists and to attempt to present the various extremist movements in the region as a reflection of the processes of democratization. This is a very dangerous game.

We also concurred that a democratization of society must rest on the natural course of events within the states themselves, in whichever region this may occur, and that any problems - regional, international - have to be dealt with on the basis of international law, on the basis of collective efforts and by politico-diplomatic methods. We shall continue engagement with our partners.

Thank you.

November 24, 2005

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