President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon.
The Seoul Nuclear Security Summit is about to end. All of you are familiar with its agenda.
On the eve of the summit, I held several important meetings: I met with President of the United States Barack Obama; I met with President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-bak, whom I told today that the summit’s organisation was excellent. Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Korean partners for organising the event and for its content, because a great deal depends on the host country.
In addition, as is usually the case, several meetings were held on the summit’s sidelines. Apart from the leadership of the United States and the Republic of Korea, I also met with the King of Jordan, the Prime Minister of Turkey and the Prime Minister of Italy, and had brief exchanges with several other colleagues.
The Seoul Summit is the second after the summit in Washington. I can say that overall I am satisfied with its outcome, because the issues are very complicated, and we cannot expect to resolve all the problems in just a few meetings. However, we did not just exchange views; we found a number of specific solutions that will allow us to build more effective cooperation in the field of nuclear security.
In addition, today we made an extremely useful joint statement with the President of Kazakhstan and President of the United States on the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. This is a truly positive example of trilateral cooperation that encapsulates the idea of the summit and its agenda.
Despite the tragedy at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant in Japan, most countries today come to the conclusion that the use of nuclear technology and materials is inevitable; they need to be improved but there can be no progress for the humanity without using them. This technology is in great demand in a wide range of areas. Naturally, we must ensure the physical and technological security of nuclear facilities, which we have been discussing over these past two days, including their security on a global scale.
”I am satisfied with summit's outcome. We did not just exchange views; we found a number of specific solutions that will allow us to build more effective cooperation in the field of nuclear security.“
I would like to remind you what we have done in this area. We have initiated the development of a new regulatory framework, modernisation of existing conventions, including the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and were the authors of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.
What, in my view, is the main problem today? We have a quality regulatory framework but not everyone has been quick to ratify and adopt it, including the most advanced states in the field of nuclear technology. I understand that this may limit their freedom to a certain extent and it clearly raises the bar for technological expectations and the amount of money that needs to be invested, but we have already started this process. That is why I believe that our nuclear power is the most advanced in the world and why we have been offering it to our partners. Other states should do the same to ensure that we have guaranteed protection from natural disasters and related tragedies, not to mention issues such as nuclear terrorism, when criminals gain unauthorised access to nuclear materials and technology. This undermines the security of our world and creates a threat of nuclear terrorism.
We are currently working on specific problems and will even conduct exercises aimed at preventing unauthorised access to such technologies, including the criminalistic aspect. I talked about this with our partners today.
In any case, the discussion was very useful. Its results are reflected in the joint communiqué, which is a balanced document that reflects a consensus on specific measures aimed at improving the system of accounting, control and physical protection of nuclear materials, as well as the prevention of illicit trafficking and reduction of the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Another initiative we have launched has to do with nuclear security culture. We have also presented a memorandum to the summit participants outlining the measures taken by our country after the Washington Summit in 2010. Naturally, we will take an active part in implementing the decisions adopted at today's summit in Seoul.
Once again I would like to thank the Republic of Korea and President of the Republic of Korea for the excellent organisation of this event.
Thank you for your attention. I am ready to answer your questions.
Question: Mr President, in a statement after meeting with US President Barack Obama, you said that we still have time to agree on missile defence, but at the same time, you noted that at present the positions of the parties have not changed. During the negotiations, did the American side demonstrate a willingness to pursue a dialogue and try to reach concrete agreements, rather than just issue general statements? In this respect, when can we expect another round of consultations on missile defence?
Dmitry Medvedev: There have been no interruptions to our dialogue. I can say that the American side has demonstrated a willingness to continue, and we fully support this as well. The question is, what is the aim of this dialogue?
We have a chance and there is still time for us to agree on all issues of the North Atlantic and European missile defence. In order to achieve that we must not only continue the consultations, but also come to specific decisions.
What have we agreed? President Obama and I spoke about this yesterday. We agreed that the consultations will continue, and over the next six to eight months they will be held with the participation of technical experts, because neither Russia nor the European countries have full clarity on all technical aspects of missile defence, including the so-called European phased adaptive approach to missile defence. I suspect that the Americans also lack a definitive understanding of what it will look like because the missile defence is not only a defensive initiative but also, to put it bluntly, a political issue, which is used by various political forces to achieve their own political interests, including the interests related to parliamentary and presidential elections.
Therefore, we will continue our consultations, the dialogue must go on, if only because it is much better to be talking and discussing than to take offence and do nothing. In any case, this dialogue should reach a conclusion, which will be favourable if we come to feel that our interests are being respected, and you know what we believe to be respect for our interests: a guarantee that this defence is not aimed against the Russian Federation (the form of the guarantee can be discussed), and our understanding of what will occur in the future.
”I believe that our nuclear power is the most advanced in the world and why we have been offering it to our partners. Other states should do the same to ensure that we have guaranteed protection from natural disasters and related tragedies.“
Or the conclusion may be different, and I spoke about such an outcome last November. But I would not like to see such a conclusion, even though it is not something that can occur in the short term; the final decision will be taken in the second half of this decade. But I can say with absolute certainty that such an outcome would not benefit anyone, because it would mean an arms race, which is a costly solution for all. Second, this decision, unfortunately, if it comes to it, will be inevitable, but we would like to prevent it. Therefore, consultations and the dialogue will continue with the understanding of what I just said.
Question: Actually, as we know, journalists have keen hearing, especially after your one on one conversation with Mr Obama yesterday, which was overheard by journalists. As we know, Mr Obama asked you, so to speak, not to escalate the conversation on missile defence at present, saying that he would be more flexible in this regard after the election. How could you comment on these press reports and the harsh reaction from the presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who described Russia as the United States’ number one foe?
Dmitry Medvedev: Decisions of this kind are always political. This is not a purely military matter. The idea of missile defence has been modified and changed.
As for our dialogue with Barack Obama, it's an ongoing conversation. It is conducted in a closed format, and yesterday we talked for one and a half hours on various topics, including missile defence. We have also talked about it with the media. So there are no secrets there, as indeed it is not surprising that some issues are very difficult to address in certain political situations. There can be better and worse times for tackling them. Obviously, the best time is when the political situation is stable, irrespective of specific policies, but just the overall construction is clear. In fact, that is what we were talking about. There is nothing surprising about this and we never tried to hide anything. President Obama could have said it publicly or in a one to one conversation. It’s just that whenever things are taken out of context, they acquire certain shades of meaning and give rise to allegations of conspiracy. I noticed today that there were four different interpretations of what was said. I wonder what will go down in history and what will come out of it in the end.
Nobody is interested in exacerbating the situation. I believe that in this respect, the dialogue between President Obama and me has been exemplary in the past years. Most importantly, it is essential for participants in a dialogue to hear each other. That is what Barack Obama and I have learned to do, and in this sense he has been a very comfortable conversation partner. When I told him something, he analysed it and gave his answer. When he told me something, I also analysed it instead of reciting ideological clichés.
There is a difference between our past dialogue with the United States and the dialogue that is being conducted under President Obama. This does not mean that President Obama has held any special position in this regard. On the contrary, President Obama is a typical President of the United States. His position has always been absolutely pro-American. We have often held opposing views, but even when we disagreed with each other, it was always done in a proper form; first, it was always polite and second, we invariably explained our positions. I told him: “You know, Barack, I can do this but not that.” And he told me the same: “That's what I can do now, but here I will be tortured, for example, by Congress, and this decision will be very difficult to make.”
”Communiqué is a balanced document that reflects a consensus on specific measures aimed at improving the system of accounting, control and physical protection of nuclear materials, as well as the prevention of illicit trafficking and reduction of the threat of nuclear terrorism.“
This is normal awareness of the political reality. This is exactly how a trust-based and friendly dialogue should be built, and I hope that this dialogue with the United States will continue. We would like to continue it regardless of who is in the White House but in reality the level of trust always depends on who performs specific duties, including the duties of the President of the United States.
With regard to various ideological clichés, I have already spoken about it. You know, I'm always worried when someone uses the phrase “number one foe” or something like that. It smacks of Hollywood and certain times in the past. So I would recommend at least two things to all pretenders to the office of the President of the United States, not excepting the one you have mentioned. First, to use reason when formulating a position, to use their heads, which is not a bad thing for a presidential candidate. And second, to check their watches from time to time, since the year is 2012, and not the mid-1970s. Whichever party a candidate belongs to, he should bear in mind the current reality. Only then can he expect to win.
Question: Russia has always carried out a reasonable and responsible policy, particularly in the international affairs, and calls on other participants of the international community to do the same. Today, we are at the nuclear summit, but we are not seeing participants of essential global processes and conflict situations, such as Iran or North Korea. Perhaps it would have been expedient to invite them, since these issues are very important and pressing?
Dmitry Medvedev: I myself would not mind having everyone participate in a discussion of nuclear security issues, everyone involved in these matters as even at this summit, there are participating countries which are fully involved in these issues and carry maximum responsibility, such as the Russian Federation, the United States of America, and other legal Nuclear Club participants, as well as states that are using nuclear energy. But there are also countries that do not participate. Moreover, I should say there are states that, in my view, are here at this summit by accident, riding on someone’s coattails, so to speak. That also happens.
But in general, it would be good if the states that are so extensively discussed participated more actively in talks. Granted, I’m not sure that the states you mentioned would be ready to participate in such talks in today’s climate. Let us hope that sooner or later, they will return to the negotiation table and we will be able to continue this dialogue in existing international formats for discussing the nuclear programmes of, say, Iran or North Korea, as well as some more expanded formats – perhaps including summits like this one.
Still, I would like to point out that the problems addressed at this summit do not include the non-proliferation of nuclear arms. After all, we are discussing somewhat different issues, even if they are very closely linked to these problems. So ultimately, I hope this will be possible. We will do everything we can.
Question: You said that perhaps Kofi Annan’s mission is the last chance for Syria to avoid civil war even though it has actually started already, or the escalation of such civil war to a completely hopeless situation.
My question is, if there really is a chance (and it always has a timeframe, so since time is ticking then at some point, it comes to an end), then what do you see as the deadline for Annan’s mission to end in success, such that the conflicting parties in Syria can sit down at a negotiation table? And what is your vision for the possibility of political progress in Syria?
Also, were there moments of political progress concerning Iran following these talks? I was hoping you might expand your answer to my colleague’s question.
Dmitry Medvedev: I do not want to cause problems for Kofi Annan, who said himself that he is not currently prepared to indicate any timeframe for achieving either conclusive progress or has the sense that progress is impossible and it is time to use other methods of international influence on the situation. Clearly, these timeframes would be fairly short, because unfortunately, the violence in Syria is continuing. And we all condemn it.
At the same time, Russia has always held a balanced position in this regard. We have always felt that each conflict has more than one side. Syrian society is very complex in terms of its religions and other aspects. To assume that Assad’s departure, for example, would resolve all the problems is very short-sighted. Yesterday and today, I asked my colleagues one and the same question: let’s imagine that there is no President Assad, that he has resigned and, for one reason or another, he is no longer making decisions. Would the situation change? Nobody said, ‘Yes, it would change dramatically, everything would be resolved’. Everybody understands that the conflict will most likely continue and the internal contradictions currently tearing Syrian society apart will not disappear just because a particular politician leaves. I think everybody is to consider this: both those who talk about the need for an immediate change in the political regime, and those who hold more balanced positions.
I did indeed discuss this topic with Kofi Annan as a special envoy, as well as with Barack Obama, the King of Jordan, and Prime Minister Erdogan today, on the sidelines of the event and in great detail.
I would like the decision concerning the fate of the Syrian state, Syrian society, the fate of the Syrian political system, and ultimately, the fate of the Syrian people, not to be made by the respected leaders of foreign states, even with the best intentions, but by the Syrian people themselves, represented by members of all strata of its society, all its components. Only then can that decision be supported by Syrian society. But if it is a decision that is essentially imposed by an exterior force, it will never be fully accepted.
It is enough to look at the situation in Libya to see that this is true. It does not have a state, it does not have democracy – it does not have Gaddafi of course, but it does not have democracy either. No one would know how long the current situation may last. Libya is still struggling to remain a single state on the world map. No doubt, we will help our Libyan partners, but they are currently dealing with a very difficult situation. Why would we want to condemn Syria to the same fate? I do not see any point in it.
So we discussed all these issues, and most importantly, all my partners confirmed the importance of Kofi Annan’s mission, even if there were reservations. We all wish him success, and I will conclude with what you said at the beginning of your question: I truly believe this is likely the last chance to avoid the escalation of civil war, whose consequences would be simply fatal for Syria.
As for Iran, I have already said that we discussed this topic with my partners as well, and that conversation will be continued.
Question: Mr President, a question about Russia’s domestic policy. Concerning dialogue with non-Parliamentary, non-systemic opposition: will it be continued, will there be a meeting with representatives of that opposition, and will the list of participants be broader than in the previous meeting? And when will the law on political parties be passed?
Dmitry Medvedev: I hope that the very term ‘non-systemic opposition’ will soon be left in the past. Why? Because the opposition, if it exists and follows the law, including the law on political parties and other laws, is part of the system either way. It can be very hard-line, radical, it can be moderate, but nevertheless, that opposition is still legal. Whereas those who do not abide by the law are criminals, rather than non-system parties' representatives.
In my view, that is the model we should use. That is precisely what I discussed at my meeting with the leaders and representatives of political parties which were not registered by the Justice Ministry. I think that this is how they should be referred to for now. But that will change very soon.
I hope that in the immediate future the law on political parties will be passed by the upper chamber, the Council of Federation, and after that, it will be submitted to the President for signing. I will certainly sign it.
But taking into account the attention given to the corresponding draft law, I thought I really should meet and talk with the leaders of those political forces that want to register. Judging by the number of the registration applications, there are far more of them than were present at the first meeting. In fact, the real number is even much greater. But it is not about discussing the merits and shortcomings of this draft law, because the law is going through an established procedure. I believe it is an absolutely normal, modern, democratic law.
This is more of a symbolic meeting, but that does not mean we shouldn’t subsequently have similar meetings. On the contrary, the political leadership of the country must regularly talk with representatives of all political forces, not just the parties that are in the State Duma, but also members of other political forces, because they reflect the overall spectrum of opinions in our country. I am certain that this is useful for the political leaders of the state.
We must meet regularly and engage in dialogue. Certainly, it is not necessary to do absolutely everything that is suggested, that would be simply impossible, but on the other hand, to the extent that we can, we should take into account the requests of even those political forces that heatedly criticise the authorities – not just should, we must. I think that this is extremely important for designing a modern state in our country, a modern social system, as well as developing a civil society.
”The American side has demonstrated a willingness to continue, and we fully support this as well. We have a chance and there is still time for us to agree on all issues of the North Atlantic and European missile defence.“
Question: I also have a question concerning domestic Russian policy.
Mr President, when do you predict that the formation of the new Cabinet will be completed? Is it possible that its composition may be announced before the inauguration of the new President? And do you expect any structural changes in the cabinet of ministers, perhaps changes in the number of ministers or deputy prime ministers?
Dmitry Medvedev: The formation of the Cabinet begins the moment when the new President of the Russian Federation is sworn in and takes office. After that, the formation of the Cabinet will commence.
What does it entail? It entails submitting the nomination for Prime Minister to the State Duma and subsequently, forming the Cabinet by office and structure.
Before then, all discussions on this topic will be entirely in vain, because there is no subject for discussion. We currently have government institutions that are carrying out their duties: we have a President, a Prime Minister, a Cabinet, and they are working in their positions and must continue working until the very last hour of their tenure, because our nation cannot be left without a government.
As for consultations, we have already spoken about this (I spoke about it, as did President Elect Vladimir Putin), saying that we are currently in the consultation phase. We are discussing the structure of the Cabinet and individuals that may be included in the new Government, and indeed, it must be a new Government both in form and content, because it is clear that this is already necessary at the present moment. The question of structure is naturally a question for discussion since the structure is approved by the President, but this is done on the basis of consultations with the Prime Minister regarding the composition of the Government and the structural elements of such Government.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Our country will not be left without a Cabinet and I hope its structure will be optimal – in other words, corresponding to current demands and the challenges our state faces.
Question: Mr President, the December elections were followed by many governor resignations, with various reasons given for this: inefficacy, low election results for United Russia and Putin. Who, in your view, is the next candidate for resignation? Recently, Nikita Belykh’s name has been frequently mentioned, there is criticism from Vladimir Putin, among others, coming his way, and Chirkunov is also mentioned.
Another question. I understand that you are not going to name the future governor of Moscow Region, but nevertheless, could you hint as to the kind of person that may head this region, and what his or her experience might be? Will this be a federal politician?
Dmitry Medvedev: I understand. You are trying to get me to reveal upcoming political intrigues.
With regard to the governors, in many cases, these were early resignations, but in many other cases, our colleagues were simply completing their terms. And there is no reason to view this as something unusual. At times, for whatever reason, all of these things get mixed up in analysts’ minds.
”The political leadership of the country must regularly talk with representatives of all political forces, not just the parties that are in the State Duma. I think that this is extremely important for designing a modern state in our country, a modern social system, as well as developing a civil society.“
If somebody completes his or her term, a new person will come to take his or her place. Why is that surprising? It does not mean that all who complete their terms must be offered a new term in office. But we must act within the existing legal framework (in this case, when I say we, I mean all the Russian people).
Until the moment that the law on procedures for electing governors comes into force, the old rules are in effect. In the last few weeks, I have already read many things: Why are they doing this? How is it even possible? Why is the President submitting somebody’s name? Will there be new procedures, do we need to appeal to the people? Listen, let’s come back down to earth. The President can and should act only within the legal framework. When a term runs out, it means that within the framework of the existing laws, I submit a new candidate. I cannot say, ‘You know, let’s wait for a new, more democratic law, it will be great if the candidate is supported by a general vote’. Nobody can avoid making a decision in this case, including myself.
So, let me emphasise again, until the moment that the new law comes into force, authority will be vested in new people within the framework of the existing procedures through the party system, submission by the President and decision by the legislative body. These may be people who have submitted an early resignation; some do this. There may be various reasons. You have named them. These reasons may have to do with the political situation, dissatisfaction with the socioeconomic development of a particular federal constituent entity. But it is not a punishment. It is simply an acknowledgement that not everyone works the same way.
And incidentally, I spoke about this after the State Duma elections, there is nothing new about it. There is always some rotation following electoral campaigns. And it is not about the concrete results. Both United Russia and Vladimir Putin did well at the elections. If we measure by European standards, they did quite well. So it’s not just about that. The issue is that every specific region has its own situation. And often, it does not fully depend, for example, on the popularity of a particular federal politician. It depends on how well the local governor is working. And we are obligated to take that into account.
I will not name any candidates for resignation because there are none. I am proceeding under the assumption that any governor who has not yet submitted a resignation and who has not been dismissed by a Presidential decision – and the President has that right (and will ret ain it) – is a law-abiding and sufficiently successful governor. That is how it should be in the future too; otherwise, we may paralyse the system of governance in our country. But the President currently has the corresponding authority, and I emphasise again, it must be retained in the new law as well. It is absolutely normal. And that is exactly where I see the proper balance in the draft law that I have introduced.
Moscow Region is a very important and very large region. I myself live in Moscow Region, so I am not indifferent to this issue. I am certain that in making this decision, I will have to analyse the professional qualities of the person who is capable of heading such a major federal constituent entity. This must be someone with good work experience, a professional and successful individual. Otherwise, it will be impossible to present him or her to the residents of Moscow Region and the deputies of the Legislative Assembly for approval. I am certain that we will find the right person and everything will be fine.
Goodbye. I’ll see you in India.