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Question: Mr President, could you please tell us about the outcome of your visit to the Middle East? Also, perhaps you could outline Russia’s position on the possible convening of the UN Security Council during which Palestine would declare its independence unilaterally? Will Russia hold consultations with Israel on this issue?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I am ready to briefly summarise the results of the visit. The main result is that I was able to hold consultations with our close partners: the Palestinian Authority, specifically with Palestinian President and Head of the National Authority Mahmoud Abbas, and here in Jordan, with His Majesty King Abdullah II.
Both of these visits are not just meetings for us; these are our partners in the Middle East. Palestine’s plight is clear. We talk a great deal about ways to return the negotiation process to a normal level. We have been holding consultations as part of the Middle East Quartet and other international forums. This was an opportunity to consult with our closest partners, to touch on all these issues directly, firsthand, as they say. It has been very useful, both in order to maintain direct contact with our colleagues, and to give an impetus to the negotiation process. In the near future, the Quartet of mediators will meet for consultation in Munich. I hope that we will be able to submit specific recommendations.
With regard to the processes taking place in the United Nations, and the proposals made by the Palestinian Authority, I can say that our position was formed a very long time ago, back in the late 1980s. And even the processes currently underway of Latin American countries recognising the Palestinian state are all in the past for us. All of our priorities remain the same. I have stated them before and I can reiterate that we advocate the creation of a modern, sovereign, future-oriented, territorially unified Palestinian State with a capital in East Jerusalem. There is nothing new or extraordinary about it. This is our position, and we have repeatedly declared it.
Depending on progress made during the consultations, we will decide on the way in which we will be able to support our Palestinian colleagues. We will hold consultations with all parties, including without doubt our Israeli partners.
In the near future as part of my trip to Davos, I am planning to meet with President of Israel Shimon Peres, and in some time I will probably also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These contacts will be vitally important because clearly it is impossible to resolve the Palestinian problem without negotiating with the Israelis.
However, there is a whole set of questions to which we must find answers. One of them is currently under discussion by the entire international community: the issue of settlement activity. I think the view of virtually all participants in the negotiating process, the Europeans and the Americans, is extremely simple, and our position is the same. We believe that such activity must be discontinued at least temporarily and it must not block the negotiation process. Thus, the settlement activities must be suspended by Israel in order for full-fledged negotiations to take place as well as to achieve a more ambitious goal: that of establishing an independent [Palestinian] state. This is only part of the problem, though perhaps it is the most obvious one, but there are other issues.
As for our bilateral relations, both our relations with Palestine and with Jordan are stable and friendly.
As co-sponsors of the negotiating process, we are helping the Palestinians in their efforts to gain statehood. This does not mean that we do not provide financial support – we do provide it – and it does not mean that do not offer assistance in other ways. Naturally, this will continue.
As for our relations with Jordan, it is our very close partner in the Middle East. We have very good, historically friendly relations that emerged during the reign of King Hussein and have evolved in a very positive way.
Today we reviewed with His Majesty and the Government of Jordan the progress made on several very large projects, including the launch of the so-called mega-projects, in which we would like to participate. One idea is to build a nuclear power station. Our Jordanian friends are going to announce a tender and we will take part in it. We’ll see who wins it; it will depend on the competitiveness of our proposal.
Therefore, I am pleased with the outcome of the visit, despite the fact that it could have been broader in scope, but has had to be limited for a number of well-known reasons. On the other hand, the event has a special significance, which I mentioned yesterday at a news conference in Palestine. This is the first time that a leader of a major state makes an absolutely autonomous visit to the Palestinian Authority. I am confident that this is the first but not the last such visit. The reaction of your colleagues, especially on the Palestinian side, provides a sufficiently clear answer to this question.
I do not know how you like it here, but I think that there is something absolutely special about this place.
Remark: … the economic projects you mentioned… (several questions asked at the same time)
Dmitry Medvedev: Not everyone at the same time, please. I am not Julius Caesar, who could do several things at once.
Question: You mentioned the economic projects that were discussed earlier today. In recent years Russia has demonstrated a tendency to expand its economic contacts with Arab countries. Is it possible that in pursuit of economic benefits Russia’s relations with the Arab world are becoming excessively close?
Dmitry Medvedev: It is impossible to have excessively close relations with anyone, if these relations are based on mutual sympathy, the wish to work together and even to make money together, to pursue economic objectives.
Why are we drawing too close to each other? Incidentally, we have never distanced ourselves from Arab nations. I am sure you know about the historic relationship between the Soviet Union and the Arab world. We would not want to lose it. This does not mean that our relations with the Arab world should compromise our relations with other states. Of course not. We would like to develop relations with everyone. I believe the more advanced and more powerful our relations with Arab states, the better it will be for the general situation in the Middle East, as well as for our own benefit. So let us continue developing our relations to the full.
Question: Could you speak in a little more detail about this location? It is a unique place; have you been able to feel its energy or touched the water?
Dmitry Medvedev: No, not yet.
Question: Are you going to immerse yourself in the Jordan River?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am going to do it now. I will definitely go and perform my ablutions in the holy river. If none of you stick around I may take a dip as well (laughter).
You know, I think is an absolutely unique place. To be honest, it would be best to be completely alone here, with no one around, to get a real sense of the place and the moment. But even in such a big company I have a feeling that this is absolutely unusual, unique place. What about your feelings?
Response: The same, especially because we have had a chance to spend some time here.
Dmitry Medvedev: To be alone here. I understand.
Response: We hope to go for a walk and breathe the air for a bit.
Dmitry Medvedev: The weather is wonderful, it’s warm here, and at the same time not too hot like in the summer, when it’s hard to just walk around in the heat.
Response: There are not many places in the world with such powerful energy.
Dmitry Medvedev: Absolutely, and it is really unique from a spiritual point of view, it’s just something we must accept without analysing it. It is also geographically unique because it is one of the lowest points on the planet, which creates a certain atmosphere.
Response: There’s one issue I would like to clarify about Palestine.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, of course.
Question: Russia talks about the recognition of the inalienable right to self-determination. Does this mean that Russia has already recognised the independence of the Palestinian State?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a question of formalities because Russia already has diplomatic relations with Palestine. We have a representative office which represents our state, we have very diverse, very multifaceted relations with Palestine and we meet with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority at the highest level. All this together means that we treat Palestine as an independent entity.
Nevertheless, this does not negate the fact that Palestine has yet to go the rest of the way to establish an independent sovereign state. Presently Palestine is on the path to its establishment, which has been very difficult and dramatic from the time of the well-known UN resolutions until this day. As for the degree of Palestine’s sovereignty, I think it is best left to lawyers to argue. That is my response.
Question: Mr President, would you agree that Russia has been the most effective member of the Middle East Quartet, and has the biggest chances to become an alternative negotiator, whereas the UN, the United States and Brussels have so far been unable to take on this role?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think it would be best not to try to divide the Quartet members, otherwise everyone will start sulking and saying that the Russians have chosen some special way of their own. We want to work together with the others.
Incidentally, the positions of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation on the current situation in the Middle East coincide on many points, which has not always been the case. Yes, the Americans do not want to vote on a part of the resolution, for example. We are ready to go as far as the entire international community is ready to go in supporting Palestinian efforts in the United Nations. I do not want us to be separated from the process. Our strength lies in the fact that we are together. That is the only way to try to find a compromise acceptable to both sides: the Palestinians and the Israelis. We can succeed only through such joint efforts.
All parties have their own advantages and disadvantages. It is no secret that the Americans have very strong influence on Israel, which no other country can claim. Conversely, we could say that Israel has a major impact on the United States. We have good relations with the Arab world, and at the same time, we have good relations with Israel. In this sense, we have our own opportunities. There is a large Russian-speaking diaspora in Israel. That is to say we must all apply our skills to finally resolve this problem.
His Majesty and I discussed this subject over dinner yesterday. It is clear that if humanity, in the broadest sense, does not successfully resolve this problem over the next few years, it can become a catalyst for some highly dangerous trends in the Middle East, including the radicalisation of various religious movements, support for extremism and terrorism. The root of the problem lies here, in the Middle East, in the Palestinian streets, in some other places, so this challenge must be our top priority in the near future.
Question: Mr Medvedev, do you agree that introducing sanctions against Israel would force it to suspend resettlement activities?
Dmitry Medvedev: Sanctions are not a very productive measure, although it may be necessary in some cases. The question is whether sanctions are possible in this case or not. When faced with a particular situation, the international community and the United Nations should use all legal instruments available to them. I hope this is not that kind of situation, especially since I think that the idea of using sanctions to put pressure on Israel is unrealistic bearing in mind the position of some permanent members of the Security Council. I am sure you know who I am referring to. Nevertheless, we must continue to search for a compromise and arrive at a solution to this problem without fail, because the settlement issue is blocking everything. Our Israeli friends must understand that.