Interview with Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Yakovenko

Question: Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will visit London on March 4-5. What are the goals and tasks of this visit?

Answer: Ivanov's meeting with his British counterpart Jack Straw will further the intensive bilateral political dialogue manifesting high trust, mutual commitment to seeking acceptable solutions to the problems concerned, including in international affairs.

The forthcoming exchange of opinions on the key issues of bilateral and international agenda will take place against the current groundwork for the June visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Great Britain.

Question: Apparently, the Iraqi problem is highly likely to be central to the talks?

Answer: It would seem so. The situation around Iraq will receive special attention. The Russian side deems it important to avert any new conflicts in the Middle East and is ready to use its entire diplomatic arsenal with a view to solving the critical situation by peaceful political means. We proceed from the fact that though Moscow and London differ on the Iraqi problem, this should not prevent them from harmonising their positions.

However, the Iraqi issue is not the only priority on the Russian-British agenda. Russia-Nato and Russia-EU relations will also come under discussion. Our relations with the EU should advance towards specific results seeking to form a common pan-European space in the economic, security and law-enforcement spheres, intensify political dialogue, and aimed at gradual transition to visa-free travelling of Russian and EU people.

We intend to discuss the opportunities of further revealing the potential of the Russia-Nato Council. We expect London to continue playing an active role in this process.

The sides will also consider non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Asia and will in particular spotlight the situation in the South Asian subcontinent and on the Korean peninsula, especially in view of the current arrangements for the review conference on the Treaty on the Nuclear Non-proliferation.

The centrepiece of our dialogue with London remains the anti-terrorist fight. Russia and Great Britain's positions are close or coincide which is a precondition for closer bilateral co-operation. In practice, this is manifest from the effective working group for combating terror and drug trafficking. Ways of further co-ordinating efforts in this area will be also considered.

Question: What are the topical aspects of bilateral relations, especially in the economic area?

Answer: Investments in trade and economic co-operation are becoming particularly important. According to the preliminary estimates, in 2002 Great Britain ranked third among foreign investors in Russian economy. Serious progress is expected in this sphere in view of British Petroleum's recent decision to invest heavily in Russia's fuel and energy sector.

Question: As it has been announced, on March 11-12 Igor Ivanov will visit Iran. What significance is attached to this visit? What will be on the agenda of the forthcoming talks in Teheran?

Answer: Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov will stay in Teheran on the invitation by Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharazi. The visit will be official and is called upon to make considerable contribution to the expansion of interaction between the Russian and Iranian foreign ministries.

The parties will discuss a wide range of issues of bilateral Russian-Iranian co-operation, international and regional problems. In particular, the agenda of the talks will include the issues of strategic stability and international security, disarmament, non-proliferation and export control, the struggle against international terrorism and drugs smuggling, the problems of Afghanistan, Iraq, the Caspian Sea, Central Asia and Trans-Caucasia, South Asia and consular relations.

The parties will pay special attention to the Iraq situation. Russia and Iran firmly stand against the military scenario in the Persian Gulf and speak for the settlement of the Iraq crisis by political and diplomatic means.

The parties intend to discuss in greater detail the issues related to Afghanistan where, in the common opinion of Moscow and Teheran, the threat to security caused by the attempts of the supporters of the Taliban movement and Al-Qaeda to regroup their forces continues to be serious. In particular, the parties will discuss the possibility for joint actions to support the Afghan provisional administration in its efforts to restore peace in the country and revive the economic infrastructure.

Question: What could you say about the general climate, the nature, the level, the state and the prospects of Russia's relations with Iran on the eve of Igor Ivanov's visit to that country?

Answer: We are satisfied with the current level of relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, our neighbour and an important regional partner in the Middle East and on the Asian continent as a whole. Today the Russian-Iranian relations have a solid contractual and legal base, which has been further strengthened after the Presidents of Russia and Iran signed in 2001 the Treaty on the fundamentals of mutual relations and the principles of bilateral co-operation and after that Treaty came into force last year.

Both countries maintain a constant political dialogue, including at the highest and high levels. In particular, the foreign political departments of both countries constantly exchange their opinions on the most topical issues of international and regional politics. Let me remind you as an example that since the start of this year we have already held consultations with the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Moscow on the struggle against terrorism and regional security, and also negotiations in Teheran on the UN issues.

Trade and economic co-operation is a major component of relations between Russia and Iran. It is characterised by stable positive dynamics. In 2002 bilateral trade amounted to $801.1 million. There is also potential for further growth.

The visit by Igor Ivanov to Teheran will take place on the eve of a regular session of the standing Russian-Iranian commission on trade and economic co-operation to be held there. The forthcoming political and economic contacts with Iran at the high level will give a strong impetus to further development of diverse and mutually advantageous co-operation with that country.

Question: What are the prospects for closer interaction of Russia and Iran on the international scene?

Answer: Russia highly values the current level of friendly and good neighbourly partnership with Iran and considers it as an important factor of strengthening stability and security in the Middle and Near East.

The Russian-Iranian interaction on the international scene on the topical issues of international and regional policy is based on the commitment of both countries to the ideas of a multi-polar world and a dialogue between civilisations, the UN central role in international affairs, the supremacy of international law in the settlement of crisis situations, the strengthening of the regime of non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons and the prevention of the arms race in space.

Russia and Iran are unanimous in their opinion about the importance of uniting the efforts of the international community in the struggle against terrorism as the most important component of the global system of addressing new challenges and threats. Proceeding from this, Russia intends to discuss in Teheran measures to strengthen bilateral and international co-operation on the anti-terrorist and anti-drugs basis and to create a solid international legal base of such interaction.