President Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen!
First of all, I would like to thank the Israeli President for his invitation and for the very warm and hospitable reception I and all the Russian delegation have received here on Israeli soil.
I would like to note that the outcome of the talks we have just had confirm that our countries are ready to work consistently and energetically to develop our political dialogue and humanitarian ties. You have just witnessed the signing of our joint declaration. It reflects our two countries’ approaches – approaches that have much in common on many points – on the most important issues facing us today. Above all, this regards establishing a fairer international configuration, a fairer international system able to fight terrorism and settle the Middle East conflict. If we can work effectively together to combat the threats we face in the world today, we will be able to eradicate their feeding grounds of ignorance, poverty and social ills.
The situation in the Middle East was an important subject of our talks. We think there is an opportunity today to achieve a just settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a settlement based above all on the relevant UN resolutions, the Madrid Principles and the Roadmap that was approved by the UN Security Council. Much will depend on the Israeli and Palestinian leaders’ readiness to take steps towards each other and follow the decisions adopted at Sharm al Sheikh. It is of principle importance that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian side take steps that could predetermine the final status of the Palestinian territory.
The settlement process must not be interrupted. Once the situation has been normalised, talks should begin to find a definitive solution to this conflict that has gone on for more than 50 years now. As an active participant in the Quartet, Russia is ready to help achieve this objective that is of such strategic importance for the destiny of this part of the world. Today, we think the Quartet can play a particularly useful role.
We discussed our bilateral cooperation in detail today, especially our trade and economic relations. Trade between our countries has been increasing over recent years and has now reached a figure of more than $1.5 billion. We see good prospects for expanding our cooperation in the energy sector, in aircraft construction, transport construction and medicine. Russia and Israel have something to offer each other in high-technology fields such as the telecommunications sector. We have agreed to sign and approve soon a number intergovernmental agreements, including agreements that will put in place the conditions for broadening our cooperation – agreements on protection and encouragement of investment, for example, on joint exploration of outer space and on military-technical cooperation in the interests of third countries. We also intend to activate the work of the mixed commission on trade and economic cooperation that will hold its next meeting in Moscow in June.
People from our country make up a significant share of the Israeli population. Many of these people maintain close ties in Russia with their friends and families. We see the Russian community in Israel as a solid and reliable link binding our two countries. An Israeli cultural centre has been working in Moscow since 1994. Today, the President and I discussed the possibility of opening a Russian culture and science centre in Israel.
Contacts between our countries have been developing actively over recent years. Our citizens are opening up a wealth of new opportunities for joint business, scientific and cultural projects. We think it would be now possible and expedient to examine the issue of simplifying travel between Russia and Israel, making it easier for Russian and Israeli citizens.
Ladies and gentlemen! Yesterday, when we unveiled the monument to the victims of the Holocaust, President Moshe Katsav and I spoke of the tragedy that our peoples lived through during World War II. I am sure that neither in Russia nor in Israel will people ever forget the horrors of war, will never forget that millions of our people were killed and will never forget that our peoples fought side by side against our common enemy — Nazism.
In January, President Katsav and I, along with other heads of state, marked the sixtieth anniversary to the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army. Soon in Moscow, on May 9, we will meet again to celebrate the great victory that we share. History teaches us to treasure and look after peace, this peace that came at the cost of such great trials and sorrow and so many millions of lives lost. It is our duty today to fight actively against xenophobia, anti-Semitism, nationalism, religious intolerance and the propaganda of violence and extremism.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the President for the very constructive, business-like and also very friendly atmosphere that prevailed during our talks today. I am sure that the partnership between Russia and Israel has a good future ahead of it. We have all the conditions for success, and most important, there is the will and desire on both sides to strengthen our friendship, trust and cooperation and to build a constructive partnership together.
Question: Did you discuss today the “missile deal” and nuclear cooperation between Russia and Iran, and if yes, then in what terms? Mr Katsav, did you listen to the Russian side’s arguments, or did you not listen to them or not want to listen to them?
Vladimir Putin: We discussed today the issues of arms supplies to Syria and the Iranian nuclear programme. We always discuss these issues when we meet with the Israeli leadership. You do not need to ask in future, did we discuss these questions or not. We always discuss them. The question is one of we say and what views we exchange.
In my interview with the Arab mass media before my visit to Cairo, and all the more here, I gave and can repeat now the following thesis: people from the former Soviet Union make up approximately 25 percent of Israel’s population. The situation in the world has changed completely and Russia’s attitude towards the emigrants from Russia and former Soviet republics has also changed completely. We want these people to be able to live in security. We take a most responsible line in our arms supplies to the Middle East.
The Middle East receives a total of around $9 billion of arms supplies from different countries. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but we estimate that the United States accounts for around $6.8 billion of this total. Arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the gulf countries account for around $2 billion. Russian arms supplies to the Middle East region come to a total of less than $500 million.
What are the concerns of our Israeli partners regarding arms supplies to Syria? Israel’s own security and the possibility of these arms falling into the hands of terrorist organisations. The President reminded me of these concerns today.
I want to inform you that the arms systems we are supplying are close-range air defence systems that pose no threat to Israeli territory.
Now, concerning the possibility of these arms falling into the hands of terrorist organisation. Are you certain that of the $9 billion-odd worth of arms that are supplied to this region, nothing can fall into the hands of terrorist organisations? I am not certain of this. But I am certain that the systems we are supplying to Syria will not end up in the hands of terrorists. We are aware of the concerns of our Israeli partners and we do take them into account in our arms sales activities.
First, we have installed systems in the mobile gun-carriages that cannot be passed on to terrorist organisations unnoticed. Second, these systems have been designed in such a way that if they are removed from the gun-carriages, the weapons will not work, they will not fire. Finally, keeping Israel’s concerns in mind, we have included a clause in our agreement with Syria according to which our specialists have the right to control and inspect these systems in the places where they are located and deployed.
As for genuinely serious systems that could indeed pose a threat to Israel, sales of such systems were discussed. Our military did have plans to sell to Syria our new Iskander missile system which has a range of around 300 kilometres. I prohibited this deal from going ahead.
So you cannot say that we are not behaving responsibly on this issue. We take into account the views and concerns of our partners and we have no plans to do anything that would upset the balance of force and interests in the region. We intend following just as responsible a line in the future. So, I am sure that it would not be right to exaggerate a problem that does not actually exist.
Question: This is a question for President Vladimir Putin. You take a somewhat one-sided line on arms supplies. You sell arms to Syria and are also offering Iran the possibility of acquiring nuclear technology. Is it possible that, for the sake of preserving a balance, you could also look at selling arms to Israel. You have excellent aircraft, for example.
Vladimir Putin: Once again, I want to say that the missiles we are supplying to Syria are close-range air defence systems that are no threat to Israel. In order for them to be a threat, you would have to attack Syria. But you are not planning to do this, surely? So, in this respect I think there is no problem.
Regarding our military-technical cooperation with Israel, we are in favour of developing our work together. As I said during my initial remarks, we plan to sign a military-technical cooperation agreement with Israel. As I understand the situation, when it comes to nuclear cooperation, Israel needs no outside assistance in some areas, but we are ready to develop our cooperation in peaceful nuclear use.
In Iran, we are working on developing nuclear energy use for civilian purposes. We categorically oppose any attempts by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Our position fully coincides with that of Israel on this issue.
Now, for the “sweetest” part of your question – the possibility of selling Russian aircraft to Israel. If you could help us sign contracts with Israel for the sale of fighter planes worth, say, a couple of billion dollars, I would give you the Medal for Services to the Fatherland.
Question: From time to time we hear concern about anti-Semitism in Russia. Could you give some specific examples of anti-Semitism in Russia which the authorities and society have not reacted to? Why, in your opinion, do people always have in mind Russia and not the Western countries when speaking of the anti-Semitism issue? The West also has this issue to deal with, after all. What is your view on this problem?
Vladimir Putin: There is nothing unusual in that, during discussions with the Russian leadership, our Israeli colleagues and friends focus attention specifically on the problems we face in Russia. Problems that arise in Western Europe should be discussed with Western European leaders, and what happens in America is something to be discussed with American leaders.
What is important is that there are manifestations of anti-Semitism in the world and we cannot allow ourselves to ignore this. As far as I know, there are such manifestations even in Israel. The place where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated was desecrated just recently.
Russia considers any manifestation of nationalism and xenophobia to be destructive because we are a multiethnic country. We must and we will fight these manifestations, but we must do so using methods that do not simply make it look as if we are doing something, but which really do achieve genuine results. Russia has dozens of synagogues. There are 15 Jewish schools financed by the Israeli Education Ministry and five financed by international Jewish organisations. I want to tell you that I personally opened the first Jewish school in our country, in St Petersburg. Dozens of Jewish newspapers and magazines are published. We will continue to support the activities of the Jewish community in Russia. I am sure that this visit, our agreements with the Israeli leadership and the establishment of closer ties between our countries will help us to resolve this problem.
This year, as we mark the sixtieth anniversary of victory over Nazism, we should come back to this problem and make every possible effort to ensure that nothing like this ever happens in the world again. We need to work to eradicate the roots of all nationalism, and anti-Semitism, too.
Question: This is a question for the Russian President. I would like a brief and to-the-point answer if possible. Regarding Iran, if Iran rejects the “Troika’s” proposals and the IAEA proposals, will Russia support this issue in the Security Council and will it support the adoption of sanctions against Iran?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I want to stress once again that our cooperation with Iran is exclusively in the area of civilian nuclear energy. In order to avoid causes for concern among the international community and among our own public at home, we have included additional clauses in our agreements with Iran. We have obtained that the Iranian side will return spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant to Russia in order to avoid the possibility of it being used for subsequent enrichment and being used for nuclear weapons.
But I do agree with you that this is, it seems, not enough. Our Iranian partners must renounce setting up the technology for the entire nuclear fuel cycle and should not obstruct placing their nuclear programmes under complete international supervision. We will decide how to react, including within the framework of the international organisations, depending on the line Iran takes on this whole series of issues.