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SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE (http://www.fednews.ru/)

Yakovenko: Ladies and gentlemen. Now that all the journalists are here, permit me to start the press conference by the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Viktorovich Lavrov. As I have said, translation will be available into two languages, but the main language will be Russian. And we would appreciate if you ask your questions afterwards in Russian.

Lavrov: Good morning. I hope you understand the reason why we are starting our press conference with a 15 minutes delay. There were some complications in providing an opportunity for all those wishing to come to enter this hall. I hope that all those who wanted to are already here. So, I am delighted to welcome you to this press conference. And once again I wish you a happy New Year and successful work this year. We appreciate the relationship that has shaped up between us and the journalist community. It is an open and friendly relationship and we hope they will develop in the same way. The past year has been by no means a simple one for Russia and for the world community. It saw some tragic events in this country and other countries. But on the whole, if you look at the results of the year, we consider them to be productive for our internal life, our economic development and for our foreign policy.

We have sought to relate our foreign policy as closely as possible to the solution of the issues of the social and economic development of Russia and to bring everything we do in the world arena closer to the interests and needs of our people. In turn, a stable and growing economy certainly bolsters the international positions of Russia. Today we have better opportunities to promote not only political dialogue with other countries, but to back it up with concrete economic and investment cooperation projects. That applies to the relations with our closest partners, the CIS states, and it applies to Russia's relations with the majority of European states, the Asia-Pacific countries, the Middle East, Latin America and of course with the United States. So, the policy which we describe as multi-directional relies on the real opportunities of Russia, the interests of Russia and reciprocal interests of our partners in practically all the regions of the world. Our international contacts show that the majority of the states on the planet are interested to see Russia continue to play an active role in international affairs.

But of course there are those who regard Russia with suspicion and are even calling for almost a confrontation with Russia, for counteracting Russian activities in the international arena. But you won't be surprised if I describe such an approach as a call for reviving confrontation. We will not be misled into that. The principles of our foreign policy remain unchanged. We are not to be provoked. We will continue to adhere to our principles firmly and consistently, in a constructive and responsible manner without backsliding into confrontation. We are convinced that there is no other option because the scale and the substance of the problems facing the international community do not permit the luxury of falling into confrontation and renouncing multilateral collective partnership in eliminating the threats and challenges that face all of us.

It is from this position that we approach the major events that will take place in the early months of this year, including the Russian-American summit in Slovakia, the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Victory over fascism, the European Union-Russia summit and the G-8 summit as well as other foreign policy events planned for 2005. The recent tragedy in South and Southeast Asia has highlighted the fact that all misfortunes are shared and the response that the tragedy has evoked in the world was one more proof of the need to combine efforts in fighting the threats of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction and other new challenges and in fighting natural disasters and cleaning up their aftermath.

I would confine myself to these introductory remarks and let us use this time -- how much time do we have?

Yakovenko: More than an hour.

Lavrov: About an hour and a half I think -- so that you could ask the questions that interest you, provided of course you do not run out of questions in an hour and a half.

Q: Sergei Viktorovich. Two questions. One a more general one and the other a more concrete one. Experts differ in assessing the past year. Some say that it was a successful year for Russia in the international arena while others are of the opposite opinion. What is the real situation? And my second question. Thursday will see the inauguration of the US President. How does Russia intend to build its relations with the US in the next four years? What concrete decisions does it expect from the Bratislava summit? And what do you think about yesterday's statement by Condoleezza Rice to the effect that the US intends to pay more attention to Russia's internal political problems, specifically the development of democracy in our country? Thank you.

Lavrov: I have said that this was not a simple year for Russia and for other states. I am not going to enumerate the events of last year. They are well known and they did indeed call for a quick reaction and imaginative solutions. But I am on the side of those who consider the results of the year to be positive for Russia and for the Russian foreign policy. I have already noted that the multi- directional character of our activities in the international arena has been vindicated. That line is based on pragmatism and on ensuring our national interests, above all, the country's security, the creation of favorable conditions for the development of the economy and for improving the wellbeing of Russian citizens. Substantial results have been achieved in all these areas. The legal and treaty basis of our relations with our neighbors and other countries has been strengthened. The basis connected with the regime of borders and the development of the Russian border is growing stronger and that is an important aspect of security. Just yesterday a further step was made when the treaty on the border with Kazakhstan was signed, the longest bilateral border in the modern world. Our trade, economic and military-political links with our partners and allies in the CIS space were growing stronger. Let me mention the agreement on the common economic space of four countries -- Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. I can also mention the emergence and development of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, as well as the creation, along with a base in Kyrgyzia, of a military base in Tajikistan. Those two bases ensure the CSTO's efficiency in what concerns rapid deployment mechanisms created in the framework of that organization, allowing reacting rapidly to challenges and threats.

The interest tends to grow in the CIS becoming a more effective organization. The Commonwealth is being reformed to be able, fully in line with its charter, to promote integration processes, depending on the level of readiness of member countries for this or that form of integration, be it economic or military-political integration. Along with the CSTO and the common economic space, I will mention EurAsEC. The Commonwealth itself is seen by all of its members as an important forum for coordinating positions, exchanging views and defining strategic directions of interactions between our states in those spheres where the interests of those countries coincide.

Efforts continued to be made aimed at settlement of conflicts on the CIS territory. Among positive developments I would mention the thing that there is hardly anyone today who seriously expects to be able to resolve those conflicts by using force. Attempts to resort to those ways last year with respect to certain conflicts on the CIS territory failed and they showed their counterproductivity. Perhaps, it is an important conclusion for the future. As far as I know, all concerned parties are now firmly adhered to the need to take diplomatic, political, peaceful measures to settle those complex conflicts. This is the result of the year and an important conclusion for this year.

Interaction developed with the United States in combating terrorism. We have to be allies. There is no other way for us. The two countries are the leaders of the global anti- terror coalition, and last year we made our contribution to the strengthening of that coalition when the UN Security Council adopted a most important resolution, No. 1540, on the basis of a Russian-US draft resolution. It fixed new key principles in combating terrorism for the whole international community, including the need to approach those problems more responsibly such as preventing the falling of mass destruction weapons into the hands of terrorists and the need to build secure barriers preventing that in each country, while employing the potential of regional organizations. We see this aspect as a very important one.

Russia has become a fully fledged participant in the initiative related to nonproliferation of mass destruction weapons, along with the United States, leading European and other countries.

Russia has developed a dialogue with the United States quite successfully in the strategic stability sphere. The two countries have a concrete plan for activities in virtually all spheres of ensuring security, promoting economic interaction and other interaction in bilateral relations, which has been proved by the presidents.

Our relations with the European Union developed, even though we would prefer them to develop more intensively. But we realize the complexities EU member countries and the European Union in general have faced in connection with the EU enlargement and in connection with deep going reform of the European Union, including efforts made to adopt a new Constitution of the European Union.

As for other regions, our relations with countries in Latin America, the Asia-Pacific have developed. We are not just promoting the development of bilateral relations with countries in those regions. We are also establishing relations with sub-regional groups. We have been joining integration processes rapidly advancing there. And this is happening, I repeat, not just because we want to extend our ties to some or other countries, region. Those processes rely on mutual interest. We feel this interest shown by our partners, and we have responded to it proceeding from our own interests. Coincidence of interests in the economic sphere, in the sphere of interaction concerning regional and global security is obvious. We feel it during our contacts with Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.

Naturally, last year confirmed that the United Nations -- and this is Russia's persistent position -- is an irreplaceable forum for coordinating moves and practical steps of all countries for the settlement of conflicts, for combating terrorism, for combating proliferation of mass destruction weapons. I have already mentioned an important resolution of the UN Security Council on nonproliferation. I will also mention another resolution. It was adopted on Russia's initiative soon after the Beslan tragedy. It is UN Security Council Resolution 1566 which expressed more precisely requirements to all countries in the struggle against terrorism, including the need to have common standards when assessing activities of various individuals charged with participation in terrorist activities.

So, in this sphere, the strengthening of multilateral foundations for global policies, we believe that Russia's position was quite productive last year.

Passing over to your second question, the Bratislava summit, I have already mentioned it among in the most important events to take place in the near future, the summit will let President Putin and President Bush to exchange opinions and views of the progress of implementation of agreements reached during their previous meetings. As I have noted already, those agreements were quite concrete. They were in the form of instructions to relevant agencies of the two countries. There is a concrete plan for activities, a schedule for those activities. And the presidents will take a look at the way those agreements are being implemented. Their dialogue will be quite extensively. Along with bilateral problems related to trade, economic and investment cooperation -- and quite a lot was done in this sphere last year, and US companies have intensified their presence in the Russian market, while Russian companies have entered the American market. So, there will be many things to discuss in what concerns bilateral relations, especially given that plans for the future are also quite ambitious.

International problems will certainly also be in the focus of discussions during the Bratislava summit. Combating terrorism, nonproliferation, combating drug trafficking, organized crime -- they are the issues for international dialogue on which Russia and the United States must play the leading part, due to their potential and due to their interests in the international arena.

I think they will also discuss issues related to the need to enhance the international community's readiness to deal with natural calamities like the Tsunami in the Southern and South- Eastern Asia.

This has been discussed for quite some time. Russia as represented by our Ministry on Emergency Situations has repeatedly proposed to set up a global agency for combating natural disasters and under the current conditions that initiative may get a further impetus considering the revealed weak links in the world system of the interaction of states in this field. And of course we will exchange opinions with our American colleagues at the Bratislava summit on regional conflicts in various parts of the world. For a whole variety of reasons the United States and Russia are involved in the mechanisms of settlement of practically each of these conflicts, with very few exceptions. And it depends to a large extent on our countries how things will proceed in the Middle East and in other conflict hot spots on the planet. That is my answer to your question.

And you have also asked me about my reaction to the remarks of the new US Secretary of State to the effect that she will pay more attention to the internal political situation in Russia, including the state of democracy and human rights. I can merely say that this is no news for us. The State Department regularly publishes reports on human rights in various countries and these assessments do not always coincide with the assessments of other countries, including Russia. We note that this is an American tradition. We too watch attentively how other states honor their international human rights obligations and I think we will have common criteria based on the existing documents on this score which Russia, the US and other states have signed.

Of course, our internal political situation is our internal concern. Life in the Russian Federation develops on the basis of the Russian constitution, on the basis of the decisions that the Russian leadership takes in accordance with the constitution. If somebody's decisions at the national level in this or that country come into conflict with its international commitments, then this is cause for concern in the international community. In any other cases I don't think such interest can in any way impact the relations of Russia and the policy of Russia. When we come under constructive criticism, we always heed it. When the analysis of our internal situation is used to try to bring us all back to the times of the Cold War, we will not agree with that. I don't think that those who in recent weeks and months have used the mass media to present the situation in Russia as little short of a roll back to totalitarianism, I don't think these people are acting proceeding from honest motives. Some people probably are not happy that Russia is going stronger, some people do not find it after their heart that Russia is becoming more and more independent in the political and financial respects. But I am sure that the attempts of some figures to use the mass media to promote such views will not meet with favor among serious politicians. And we know Condoleezza Rice as a serious politician and it is unlikely that the US administration will diverge from the course formulated by the two presidents regarding the development of partnership between our two countries. At least we have no doubt on that score.

Q: ITAR-TASS. Sergei Viktorovich, what real results have been achieved in fighting the main evil, international terrorism? Bin Laden is still at large. There are explosions going off in Iraq and Afghanistan and individuals such as Zakayev are roaming freely in the US and Europe.

Lavrov: I have already mentioned some concrete results of the fight against terrorism last year. These include important concrete resolutions of the UN Security Council putting higher demands to all the states as regards practical compliance with the resolutions aimed at strengthening the global anti-terrorist coalition. They include resolutions to prevent weapons of mass destruction and means of their delivery falling into the hands of terrorists, the strengthening of NPI, the non-proliferation initiative, interaction between Russia and NATO on counter-terrorist problems, including the signing in Brussels in December of last year of a joint action plan within the NATO-Russia Council on fighting terrorism which envisages exchange of confidential information, joint exercises and training, joint development of explosives detectors and other very concrete activities that take our counter-terrorist partnership within the Russia-NATO Council to a new level.

Then there are the Russian participation in the Active Endeavor operation in the Mediterranean aimed at preventing the smuggling of materials that terrorists can use for their ends, the decision of the Black Sea countries on committing the Black Sea cooperation mechanism the so-called Black Sea FOR to the fight against terrorism and proliferation -- such decisions have already been made and they will be implemented, including through collective patrolling by military vessels of Black Sea FOR in the Black Sea basin. Also the joint exercises carried out in Russia, Accident-2004 and Kaliningrad- 2004 jointly with our NATO partners. And the strengthening of counter-terrorist topics in Russia's dialogue with the Americans, with the European Union and with many other countries. Strategic groups have been set up to further bilateral cooperation in counter- terrorism, this work involves the foreign ministries, the special services and other agencies concerned. The exchange of information is very useful. In a number of cases we have managed to prevent preparation and commitment of terrorist acts.

So, I see major achievements in this field. The terrorist threat of course is still there and nobody ever said that the fight against terrorism will be over quickly. For this fight to be more successful it is necessary to renounce double standards in this field. It is necessary to apply the same yardstick to all those who train and inspire terrorists and those who perpetrate terrorist acts. And in this connection we expect that the people suspected of complicity in terrorist activities will be extradited to the countries that demand it. Especially since resolution 1566 passed in the wake of Beslan expressly stresses the need to apply common criteria to such individuals. Ideally, we should compile a common list of all those involved in terrorist activities and Russia has made a relevant proposal to the Security Council. It is now being elaborated, and a special group has been created.

Q: Sergei Viktorovich, two questions from Georgia's MZ TV company. First, in your opinion how efficient is the CIS structure? The organization has been criticized a lot recently. In particular, by Georgian authorities. Has everything functioned normally in that organization? Is not it necessary to reform it?

Second, we know that you are planning a visit to Georgia. Are you going to discuss such acute problems as the creation of join anti-terror centers in Georgia and the signing of a big framework agreement? Do you expect this visit to lead to a breakthrough in Russian-Georgian relations?

Lavrov: I have spoken about the CIS already. We feel that all CIS member states are interested in making it more effective. There are grounds for expressing those wishes. Many decisions that have been made since its inception have remained on paper, they have been declarative. There is a whole range of problems related to the fact that the agenda of meetings of the heads of state and the heads of government is packed.

Our common goal in reforming the CIS is easing the burden on the Council of the Heads of State and the Council of the Heads of Government to let our leaders focus during those meetings on strategic issues related to cooperation, on finding spheres where our interests coincide and where there is real potential for joint activities.

Issues related to particular spheres which have so far been submitted to the heads of state for consideration could be dealt with at a level of ministers, including foreign ministers, interior ministers, defense ministers, special services and law enforcement agencies.

All those ministries have their organizations in the CIS framework. Practice shows, in particular, the most recent meeting of the Council of Interior Minister, that they have worked quite successfully on those problems of concern to all countries, especially in the law enforcement sphere, which is particularly important under the current conditions.

There also are sectoral organs which meet from time to time or never meet at all. They actually do not have issues for joint discussions, perhaps, it would be better to liquidate such bodies, and we have now been discussing this with all CIS member states. We have taken an inventory of support bodies in the CIS framework and we will prepare proposals for the heads of state so they would be able to discuss them during the next summit meeting.

Third, there are spheres where there is interest for the CIS to be better structured. One of those spheres in humanitarian cooperation in the broader sense of the word, be it culture, art, cinema, theater, education, science, sports, tourism. There are framework documents related to many of those spheres and perhaps time has come to consider whether we should reach some accords and sign some agreements that would facilitate various exchanges in the sphere of education, facilitate cooperation aimed at support of languages of CIS member states in the CIS framework, facilitate the holding of film festivals, theater festivals and sports events. The Commonwealth Cup tournament now being held in Moscow is a very popular soccer event, and we could consider holding similar events in other kinds of sports.

We have been considering those things all the time, and these are preliminary conclusions we can make on the basis of our first contacts on the issue with our partners in the CIS. I hope we will be able to accomplish reform while retaining the fundamental principles of the CIS, namely, its voluntary nature, the possibility of integration at various speeds. Together we will find spheres where life itself prompts our countries to establish closer cooperation.

As for my visit to Georgia, we have really agreed to hold this visit on February 18, if I am not mistaken. I hope that negotiations on a big bilateral agreement will resume before the visit, as well as on other bilateral issues, including the creation of anti-terror centers using infrastructure available in Georgia, in particular, infrastructure of existing Russian military bases.

Unfortunately, there has been a break in negotiations on a big agreement for several months, but we hope that in the near future we will have additional contacts with the Georgian side before the visit, to continue discussions on a whole range of bilateral issues. This will allow speeding up the resumption of work on the agreement.

Q: CBS television. Sergei Viktorovich, you have said that there will be no Cold War, thank God. But I have lived here for 13 years and I have seen that relations between our countries under Putin and Bush are not as warm as they used to be, say, under Yeltsin and Clinton. Don't you find that there has been certain cool down and people tend to look at the other country rather as an enemy, than a friend? Second, political changes having occurred in Russia in the past months, President Putin has said they were very important for u, but don't you think that those relations have impaired Russia's image abroad? Thank you.

Lavrov: Thank you very much. I don't think that relations between presidents Putin and Bush are less warm than between presidents Yeltsin and Clinton. Along with other things, one should realize what we mean when we speak about warm relations. They can be very warm, even hot, but they can fail to lead to any concrete things. But they can be friendly, normal, kind, without overheat, relations promoting equitable partnership, dialogue and cooperation in practical things.

I can say that we see relations between the two presidents as being in ling with the latter model. They are relations of mutual respect between the two leaders who are well disposed to each other and, when they meet, they can discuss any issues, get answers and respect each other's position. They can agree on ways to further develop relations.

But it is true that their accords are far from always realized in full measure after those meetings, realized the way the presidents would like to see them realized, because it often happens that bureaucracy tries to modify them. We find that this is a wrong approach and we will persistently work for decisions made by our leaders to be translated into life properly. As I have said already, this will be discussed in Bratislava.

I have not seen that in Russia any more or less substantial segment of the public tends to regard the United States as an enemy. Even in the hardest times when Cold War started after World War II, we did not regard the United States as an enemy. There was such a term -- potential enemy. But this was due to the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union had huge missile potentials. Still, I do not think that the bulk of Russians see the United States as an enemy.

As for our domestic political reform, as it has been noted many times and as any unbiased observer can see, they have been implemented strictly in line with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, in line with the principle of federalism fixed in the Constitution. The Council of Europe's Venice Commission has recently confirmed that those reforms are in line with the federalism principle. So, we have assessments from foreign observers as well.

As regards Russia's image, you know of course that we all want to be perceived in the world -- this is a natural wish that every country should have -- as a normal country. This is not an end in itself for us. Reforms are conducted in order to strengthen our country and to answer the challenges that we are tangibly aware of to the unity of our country and to its place in the world. These reforms are necessary for governance to be effective, to contribute more effectively to the development of the economy. And not only in the fuel and energy sector, but in the high technology sphere. That indeed calls for serious attention on the part of the state at all levels, including the regional level. Government should take more account of the needs of people. As you know, a public chamber is being set up for this purpose.

So, if there are those who understand that the world needs a strong Russia because it is in everybody's interests -- it is in the interests of more effective fight against terrorism, more effective fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other challenges -- and if those who understand this and see these reforms as being positive for our country and for the destinies of the world, then we believe that their assessment is correct.

Those who think that a strong Russia is not in their interests, they will probably perceive a different image, but, I repeat, this is not our problem.

Q: Sana agency, Syrian radio and television. How do you assess the visit of the Syrian president to Moscow, and the development of bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East? And a second question, if I may. How can you comment on the -- (inaudible) -- around the visit before it has started?

Lavrov: President Asad will visit Russia for the first time since becoming president in 2000. Syria is one of our most important partners in the Middle East. Our countries have long-standing good relations with each other and we attach great significance to this visit in terms of reviewing the whole range of our bilateral cooperation in the sphere of trade and in the economic sphere. We expect a number of agreements to be signed which will further strengthen the treaty and legal basis of our relations and agreements dedicated to the development of our cooperation in the energy and transportation fields, in the metallurgical industry, the mining industry as well.

The situation in the Middle East will, of course, be discussed. Syria is one of the key states for the settlement of the Middle East situation. That settlement, of course, must cover not only Palestinian-Israeli relations, but also Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese- Israeli relations.

Russia, like Syria, is coming out consistently for a comprehensive approach to Middle East settlement so that its various aspects are not ignored because a solution can only be comprehensive. Any attempts to pluck certain elements out of the general picture merely will make more difficult and delay the moment when settlement will become possible.

And regardless the ballyhoo, as you put it, over missiles, I already had occasion to comment on this situation and our Defense Minister has commented on it. Our cooperation with Syria has a broad format and is many-sided, and it also includes military-technical cooperation. And in our relations in this area we have never violated our international commitments. We have never supplied weapons that are either banned under our international commitments, or weapons that would in certain quantities destabilize the situation in the conflict regions. All these principles are enshrined in Russian laws and we have scrupulously adhered to them in our relations with all the countries including, of course, Syria.

Q: Excuse me, I hope I am allowed to ask a question in English. I don't want to violate the Russian language. I am from German television. I think I can rightly say that Germany is a very big friend of Russia, not only our Chancellor as you know, but also the whole people and especially German ties, economic ties with Russia are very strong and growing. Now, in recent times when I talk to investors, our potential investors from Germany into Russia, I have the impression that the idea of Russia within the German investment community has changed considerably. And not only because of, let's say, the way Yuganskneftegaz was sold off, the whole YUKOS affair or story, if I could say so. But other questions as well were raised and in general there is now, I have a feeling, a turn of opinion on the investment climate in Russia. What can you as a Foreign Minister do to change this impression? What can Russia do?

That is one question. Another question would be, could you please kindly comment on the further development of Russia in relation to Ukraine. What sort of relationship do you hope to develop with the new president, Yushchenko?

Lavrov: Thank you. I have not heard, frankly, from our German colleagues that German business is beginning to have doubts about investments in the Russian Federation. To the contrary, all the plans and wishes that a number of German companies have had with regard to investments in Russia are still there and all this was confirmed during the December visit of President Putin to the FRG. Talking with colleagues from other countries, including representatives of foreign business -- American, European and Asia, and Latin American -- I feel that their interests in investing in Russia remain, and even grow and that the main factors of this interest are the continuing budget surplus in this country for several years in a row, and this year the budget surplus is over 4 percent of the GDP.

Another important factor is the steady increase of the Stabilization Fund, which is one of the guarantees of Russian economic stability. And our recent decision to offer our Paris Club partners to repay ahead of schedule a large part of the Russian debt to the members of this club was perceived as another proof that the Russian economy was developing steadily. I repeat, I perceive all these factors as factors that fuel interest and increase interest in investing in Russia. This is my assessment of the situation. I repeat, I have not heard a different opinion from my German or other colleagues. Yes, we do read a lot of materials in the media expressing the concerns that you have mentioned. But I have already commented on these materials. I don't think they are written with good intentions and we take them for what they are.

As regards Ukraine, President Putin has stressed more than once that we will respect the choice of the Ukrainian people. That fully applies to Viktor Yushchenko who won the last presidential election in Ukraine. He has repeatedly said that he wants to make his first visit as Ukrainian president to the Russian Federation and the Russian Federation, the Russian President will of course respond to this wish. The relations between our two countries are immeasurably deeper and broader than the situation that prevailed during the prolonged election campaign in Ukraine. Those relations are predetermined by history, geography, economy, culture and, the main thing, the fates of the people. There is no other way for our people but to build up those relations in all spheres.

I know that there is hardly a politician in Ukraine who would pursue a different policy with respect to Russia. There is hardly a politician in Russia who would approach the development of relations with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people otherwise than in a partner, neighborly and friendly manner.

I proceed from the assumption that these objective interests will underlie relations between our countries in the future.

Q: Renmin Ribao, China. Mr. Minister, I have the following question. How would you comment on President Bush's words that he did not rule out the possibility of military actions in Iran? What measures will Russia take under the worst scenario? Thank you.

Lavrov: Speaking about Iran, I would like to note that the main parties to negotiations, contacts aimed at resolving the nuclear problem in that country proceed from the need to settle it by political, diplomatic means. There are opportunities for that, as has been confirmed by the meeting of the IAEA Council of Governors in November last year, which considered accords reached between three European countries -- France, Britain and Germany, on the one side, and Iran on the other.

The accords have been backed by Russia, and Russia has had parallel contacts with both the European troika and with Iran during that period. It is an agreement that Iran's uranium enrichment program should be frozen and close unrestricted cooperation should continue between Iran and IAEA.

If all parties stick to the agreement which calls for the development of cooperation with Iran in the energy and economic spheres and in settlement in the region, I am convinced that we will attain the desired results.

I would rather not speak, even in hypothetical terms, about what may happen if someone resorts to other measures, than diplomatic and political measures. I repeat, I am convinced that peace settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem using political means on the basis of reached accords, on the basis of mutual account of interests, on the basis of mutual respect is possible, and Russia will do everything required for those accords to be implemented.

Q: Azerbaijan TV. Mr. Minister, according to information available to us, you will pay a visit to Azerbaijan in February. What problems will be discussed? The main issue in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the Nagorno- Karabakh problem. Are you going to discuss it with the Azeri leadership? Thank you.

Lavrov: My visit to Azerbaijan is scheduled for February 2. Naturally, we will discuss the current state of our bilateral cooperation. It is ramified cooperation embracing all spheres of life, including trade, the economy, investment, and cultural ties.

Much attention will be paid to the preparation of the President of Azerbaijan's visit to Russia in the second half of February. We will discuss the problem I have touched upon today, namely, the preparation of reform of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Naturally, Karabakh settlement will also be discussed. Russia is one of three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group which has a mandate for promoting solutions around Nagorno-Karabakh. In the past months, after the meeting of the two presidents -- President Aliyev and President Kocharyan -- in Astana in September of last year and their meeting with President Putin, after those meetings in Astana, there has been certain progress, I will say with cautious optimism. Representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the countries' foreign ministers, have maintained contacts and co-chairs of the Minsk group have provided assistance to them. According to our cautiously optimistic estimates, the process advances in the right direction. Naturally, in Baku we will exchange opinions on the progress of this process and on ways to lead it to completion.

Q: Sergei Viktorovich, President Vladimir Putin has called into question the possibility of holding an election in Iraq in conditions of foreign occupation. How could you reply to comments by many analysts, in particular, in the Arab world, who have noted that Russia has allegedly called into question the possibility of holding a democratic election? Does this means that Russia would not recognize the outcome of this election? What do you think about prospects for relations between Russia and Iraq after the election?

Lavrov: You know, we are just weighing the information we have, and I am convinced that anyone has access to this information. The situation in the security sphere tends to worsen in Iraq day by day as the election date of January 30 approaches. A huge multinational contingent is deployed in Iraq and it is trying to control the situation in the country and resolve security problems. A state of emergency has been extended n Iraq and it will last longer than January 30. So, this is hardly a normal situation for holding elections. I would describe it as an emergency situation. It will hardly be possible to say that the election would be held totally in line with commonly accepted standards.

Still, if Iraq's interim government, despite all those problems, confirms the need for holding the election, and it does take place, no matter what its outcome is, the Iraqi people itself should decide on the legitimacy of the election, rather than outside observers or groups.

We proceed from the assumption that there is a dire need for this election in principle as it would allow starting a real process of restoration of the Iraqi people's sovereignty. It is necessary to have some elected body emerging, even if not in idea conditions, but it should be elected by Iraqis themselves. This would start a new phase in the process of Iraq's regaining sovereignty. This process has been stalled so far. This has been due first and foremost to t he fact that they have been unable to establish dialogue between various parties in Iraq, they have been unable to launch a national reconciliation process, for which interaction is necessary between Iraq's interim government and all political, religious and ethnic groups, including the opposition.

As I have noted many times, the need for an internal Iraq dialogue and the need to initiate the process of national reconciliation before the interim government of Iraq was formed was pointed out a year ago.

At that stage many shared the idea, but eventually the interim government of Iraq was formed in a different way and not on the basis of an inter-Iraqi dialogue. Nevertheless, the idea of such a dialogue and the need for national reconciliation and national accord are enshrined in Security Council Resolution 1546.

I repeat that unfortunately no real progress has occurred in this area although at the conference held in Sharm-el-Sheikh in November of last year all its participants, including Iraq's neighbors and including the G-8 countries, China, and the UN Secretary General spoke in favor of such dialogue being initiated even before the elections.

For various reasons, it did not work out that way, so, let me repeat that if the elections are held after all, it is up to the Iraqi people and not to outsiders to determine the legitimacy of these elections. But our position is that in any case there is no alternative in Iraq to national accord, and the sooner real progress in this direction begins the better. We will be ready to render every assistance to it.

Q: Latvia, the Russian newspaper Chas. After such a figure as Viktor Kalyuzhny was appointed Russian ambassador to Latvia and after he made his statements, it is felt that the priority Russian interests in Latvia are economic, including the port of Ventspils. Is that really so? And the second question. When may the border treaty be signed?

Lavrov: Our interests regarding Latvia are the same as our interesting regarding any other neighbors, any other country. We want the relations to be normal, good-neighborly and mutually beneficial and to be based on universally accepted norms and the obligations that our countries have internationally.

The economy of course is one of the key components in any bilateral relations. We are interested in broader mutually beneficial cooperation. We would also like to see the settlement of all the problems existing between Russia and Latvia, including the signing of the Border Treaty and coordination of the principles of our relations.

Through the mouth of President Putin we offered to sign border treaties in Moscow on May 10. The Russia-European Union summit will be held in Moscow on that day. And considering that the border treaties are long ready and considering that the European Union, our colleagues from the European Union have repeatedly expressed interest in our border treaties with Latvia and Estonia being signed, I think it would be a good occasion and a pretext for signing the treaties on the state borders with Latvia and Estonia on the day of the Russia-EU summit. We have also proposed that simultaneously with these treaties declaration on the basic principles of relations be adopted respectively a Russian- Latvian and a Russian-Estonian one. A similar document with Lithuania was signed many years ago.

These declarations would set down all the basic principles underlying our relations, including of course the problems of human rights and national minorities.

We have handed over corresponding documents to our colleagues in Latvia and Estonia. We expect an early reaction from them so that we could agree these documents with an eye to adopting them in Moscow on May 10.

Q: The Georgian TV company Rustavi-2. I would like to have an explanation of the following issue. The latest statement of the Georgian Foreign Ministry on abandoning the monitoring of the Russian-Georgian border by the OSCE group has triggered a flurry of accusations from the Russian side addressed to Georgia which allegedly backs terrorists and allows Georgian terrorists to be in the Pankisi Gorge. Could you explain the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry?

Lavrov: It was Russia that raised the issue at the OSCE that the monitoring mission on the Russian-Georgian border be abandoned. That mission played a role at a certain stage when our two countries were not controlling that border well enough. That mission had rather political-psychological significance because unfortunately in practical terms it did not contribute to diminishing the number of violations of that border. It patrolled the border at fixed times and on fixed routes which of course were well known to all those who might have wanted to illegally cross the border.

At the same time the mission cost considerable amounts of money, more than 15 million euros, and considering that the OSCE is not an overly rich organization clearly that money could have been used much more effectively, including for the needs of Georgia itself, to carry out projects in Georgia, including a project to strengthen its border services.

So, we on our side of the border are prepared to control it with the resources of Russian border guards. One shouldn't see it as political sabotage. This is prompted by strictly pragmatic considerations and our OSCE colleagues admit, at least privately, that the mission is no longer needed and is not worth spending money on.

As for terrorists and the use of the Pankisi Gorge by the terrorists, the past year saw increased cooperation between the border and law-enforcement services of Russia and Georgia, and it has yielded some results. But the problem has not been completely solved and we expect that under the bilateral agreements between the corresponding security and border services of the two states such cooperation will continue in order to prevent terrorists from using the Pankisi Gorge as a staging post and as a rest area, etc.

Q: Japanese TV company NHK. How do you assess the results of the recent visit of the Japanese Foreign Minister to Moscow? You have said that it is necessary to build a bridge between our countries. How do you see it? What is Russia planning to do and what would you like the Japanese colleagues to contribute to the building of that bridge? And what conditions must be met, what should be done to determine the date of President Putin's visit to Japan?

Lavrov: I have already made an assessment of the results of the talks with Minister Machimura on the day he was in Moscow. I will recap briefly that I consider the talks that have been held to be very useful above all because they confirmed the need to develop our relations on the basis of the action plan approved by the Russian President and the Japanese Prime Minister in 2003 which envisages the development of broad mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries in all areas while simultaneously continuing negotiations on the problems of the peace treaty. I would like to say that I think as a result of the talks there is a more realistic awareness of the need to move the road charted by our leaders.

On President Putin's visit. Before fixing the date of the visit, it is necessary to understand what its real content will be: there are many accomplishments in Russian-Japanese relations which if carried through to the end could elevate the relations to a qualitatively new level. These spheres include energy, space exploration, high technologies and much else. There are agreements which could be signed to give a serious impetus to our relations, strengthen legislative base for those relations.

We exchanged draft documents with the Japanese colleague, which we believe could be prepared for the visit. We have agreed that we will examine each other's proposals. There are coinciding proposals on a whole range of issues but there also are proposals which we will have to discuss to come to terms. Later we will consider each other's proposals and exchange opinions to see what package of documents could be prepared for President Putin's visit, after which it will be possible to set acceptable timing for the visit.

Q: I have a question about the relation between the EU and Russia. Do you think that time will be enough to ease the tensions or do you think that there is a need for a more active policy? In this case, what can be expected first from Russia and, second, from the EU? Thank you.

Lavrov: I hope that we will be able to implement the accords reached during the Russia-EU summit meeting in the Hague in November last year. As the Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende put it, we can agree on road maps in the near future, agree on road maps for four spaces between Russia and the European Union.

We proceed from the understanding that it is very important to complete that work by the next summit meeting with the European Union in Moscow on May 10, but, I repeat, Prime Minister Balkenende has expressed the hope that this could be done earlier. This perhaps, is the most realistic goal in our relations with the European Union at the current stage.

As for the more general question about what Russia should do and what the European Union should do to promote the development of our partnership -- and we are interested in the development of such partnership, we find it an important factor in global policies -- it is perhaps that we should approach the creation of those four common spaces on equitable terms.

I would draw an analogy with the way we have promoted cooperation in the Russia-NATO framework. There are no blocs there, there are just countries. In the Russia-NATO Council framework work continues aimed at singling out common problems where all countries are interested in interaction. Work is based on joint analysis of problems and joint elaboration of mechanisms for their solution.

We would like to deal with the European Union this way, even though our European colleagues sometimes want to agree something among themselves, only after which they invite Russia to join on the terms they agree inside the European Union. Perhaps, this does not meet the current requirements. We want to develop our relations on the principles of equality and mutual benefit. We hope that road maps will be formulated this way and our cooperation in the mid-term will develop this way.

Q: May 9th is the V-Day. It is the 60th anniversary this year. Your government has invited many leaders, including the North and South Korean leaders to attend celebrations. South Korea's President Noh Muh Young has already agreed to attend. Have you received a reply from North Korea? Is it possible that the leaders of North and South Korea will meet in Moscow? Another question is about six-party negotiations. What is the prospect?

Lavrov: The leaders of many countries have been invited to come to Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary on May 9th, the leaders of countries which took part in World War II, and most of them have accepted the invitation. We are expecting to get replies from other leaders in the near future so we would be able to prepare everything properly.

As for potential contacts between our guests on May 9th in Moscow, perhaps you mean contacts without Russian participation, and you should rather address your question to the leaders who will be able to meet here.

As for six-party negotiations, we expect that it will be possible to resume them in the near future. Efforts have been made for that. All countries participating in the negotiations have maintained contacts and I hope that talks will resume in the near future.

Q: SRNA agency, Republika Srpska. What is Russia's position about recent developments in Republika Srpska? And what is the role of the international community and Paddy Ashdown in attempts to disrupt the Dayton agreement?

Lavrov: We are convinced that the Dayton should remain the basis for Bosnian settlement primarily in what concerns equal treatment of all three ethnic communities. Naturally, Dayton can be perfected and it cannot remain totally unchanged. But it fixes the basic principle of the need to keep a balance between three ethnic groups, and it is inviolable.

After the high representative made his decisions, we contacted him and explained our position based on inadmissibility of wrecking the balance. He perceived what we stated. We expect our dialogue with him to continue. Anyway, he has confirmed his interest in this, and we have agreed that we will need to have more consultations in the future with all those who was at the outset of the Dayton process, including the UN Security Council which has approved the Dayton agreement. So, we proceed from the assumption that Dayton will not be undermined.

Q: BBC. A question about Iran's recent accords with three countries -- Germany, France and Britain -- on nuclear technologies. Won't this impair Russia's positions in Iran's energy market? The Iranian ambassador to Russia said recently that cooperation between Russia and Iran depends on Russia's position and its openness.

My second question is about terrorism. All CIS member states have backed Russia's initiative on combating terrorism. But in some of them the struggle against terrorism is just a struggle against political opponents. As the leader of the CIS, is Russia responsible for those moves in any way?

Lavrov: Iran. Russia engages in cooperation with Iran on the energy sphere along with other forms of economic cooperation. We have cooperated with Iran in the sphere of nuclear energy in the framework of a project calling for the construction of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr. The project is absolutely transparent and fully under IAEA control. We are interested in developing such cooperation with Iran in future. We have corresponding plans in response to the wishes of the Iranian side.

We have been in close contact with the European countries you have mentioned and in negotiations with Iran. We have maintained contacts with the Iranian leadership and our European partners would like us to coordinate our actions in developing cooperation with Iran.

In any case I can say that we will not tolerate attempts to use developments around the Iranian nuclear program in order to undermine Russia's positions in the Iranian energy market by non- market and wrongful methods. We have no grounds for fearing such attempts.

I repeat, we are conducting these conversations in a businesslike and open manner and we are ready to compete, but to compete honestly without attempts to use political negotiations to undermine each other's commercial positions.

On your second question, I don't know what concrete examples you are referring to. The CIS, the Central Asian Cooperation Organization has achieved an agreement to form lists of persons and organizations involved in terrorist activities. This work is being done on a collective basis and it does not consist in a mere mechanical combination of national lists.

So, I repeat, the fight against terrorism within the CIS is based on revealing organizations and persons complicit in terrorist activities.

Q: Do you see any possible signs of a thaw in the relations between Estonia and Russia in the light of the Foreign Ministerial consultations in which Russia reaffirmed its readiness to sign a border agreement as well as your readiness to visit that country? And when could that visit take place?

Lavrov: I have already said that the Russian leadership has submitted a proposal to the leaders of Latvia and Estonia: the Border Treaty, and the Declaration on the Basic Principles of Relations. These proposals are under consideration. And we expect to get a reaction from our Estonian colleagues in the foreseeable future. And depending on the draft, if additional work is required, in particular on the Declaration on the Basic Principles of Relations, we can discuss when, where and at what level this work can be done.

I would be ready to visit the capital of Estonia for this purpose, to hold yet another meeting with my counterpart. As regards the date, I don't know because we are expecting an answer to our proposal.

Q: Russian diplomacy, contemporary Russian diplomacy is with rare exceptions all-male. Is it a considered position of the Foreign Ministry or can one expect that in the near future, in addition to the classic examples of Alexandra Kollontai and Valentina Matviyenko we will hear about new appointments of female ambassadors?

Lavrov: Well, considering that you are yourself a post- graduate at the Diplomatic Academy, I hope that things will be put right very soon. (Laughter).

Q: Mr. Minister, what is the significance for Russia of participation in the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz and Kirkenau concentration camp? And in addition to the presence of President Putin in these celebrations are plans to hold Polish-Russian talks?

Lavrov: Auschwitz-Kirkenau was liberated by the Red Army and millions of people who had been abducted from the Soviet Union were tortured to death in that camp. It's a memory that is sacred, it's our common sorrow and it's about our common task of preventing new Holocausts. President Putin had this in mind when he accepted the invitation from President Kwasniewski. In fact, our two presidents together agreed to hold this event.

But I assume that during his stay in Poland, President Putin of course will have contacts with President Kwasniewski and they will be able to discuss the issues that they see fit to discuss.

Q: I would like to hear your assessment of the development of the Russian-Italian dialogue last year and perhaps you could dwell on some new initiatives on a bilateral and global scale that one can expect in the future.

Lavrov: During the course of the last year I repeatedly gave high assessments of Russian-Italian partnership. It is indeed a country with which we have close, even one might say, preferential relations. That applies to our bilateral relations and our interaction on the world arena, at the United Nations and in the context of our relations with NATO. Italy initiated the creation of the Russia-NATO Council which is working successfully and is increasingly proving its relevance. And I should mention our relations in the framework of the dialogue Russia is conducting with the European Union. Italy, together with France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg and other countries is actively contributing to steering this dialogue along the right course. In our bilateral relations, the investment component is growing stronger which we welcome, and during the past year Prime Minister Berlusconi paid a working and an official visit to Russia. Both these visits, like the ministerial exchanges, produced concrete results. We have significant plans for next year. I am sure that our leaders will meet more than once during this year and will take our relations to a still higher level. We are interested in it, we feel that Italy is a reliable partner. Our shared views in many things happening in the world, and shared views on the development of our cooperation in the economy, in the energy sphere, in the sphere of culture and the arts. The exhibition "Russia-Italy Down the Centuries" that opened in Rome last fall will move to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow in February. I think it is due to open here on February 7. So, it will be a significant milestone in the cultural life of Russia and in the cultural ties between Russia and Italy.

Q: Could you comment on Russia's role in the Middle East? Including Iraq, considering that Russia is a cosponsor of the Middle East peace process and a member of the Quartet of international mediators? And what role can be played by the upcoming visit of President Asad of Syria?

Lavrov: Thank you. Russia is indeed a member of Quartet dealing with the Middle East settlement. We took part in the latest meeting of the Quartet ministers in Sharm-el-Sheikh which worked out good agreements on how to proceed in the Middle East, above all, on the issue of Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Russia will actively seek to ensure compliance with these agreements. These were the topics of the visits by the Minister and his deputies to the Middle East, and the negotiations with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership over the past weeks and months. We believe that the road map approved by the four, which was approved by the UN Security Council, has no alternative. It is a document aimed at reaching Palestinian-Israeli settlement. It is extremely important in this context that it should not be limited to Palestinian-Israeli settlement only. The Syrian and Lebanese tracks should also be an inalienable part to general settlement of the Middle East conflict. All decisions by the UN Security Council are aimed at this.

So, while hailing Israel's planned pull out of Gaza, like other members of the four, we believe that this should be the start of real movement along the road map. We have grounds to believe that the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli leadership are ready for making sure that this is the case and for resuming direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis in the near future. Naturally, to make this possible, it is necessary to put an end to violence, and we are taking the steps in our contacts with the parties, while coordinating them with our partners in the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

I have already spoken about Iraq and the Syrian President's visit, so I will not repeat myself.

Q: AP. Sergei Viktorovich, you have mentioned it and we all know that the US administration has criticized Russia on a whole range of issues in the past months: Yukos, Ukraine, domestic political reform and other. Is Russia satisfied with all aspects of the US administration's activities? If not, what has failed to satisfy it? Thank you.

Lavrov: I think it would be wrong for us to start trying to find some things in each other's behavior that do not satisfy us and discuss this during press conferences. This would just give an impetus to those processes. It is not that we have some secrets. It is just not the right format for discussing mutual concerns.

I have already mentioned that presidents Putin and Bush have reached a sufficient level of trust and confidence to be able to ask each other any questions during their meetings and give open answers to those questions and treat those answers with understanding and respect. So, I think those problems will be discussed in this mode in the future.

Q: Sergei Viktorovich, what is your view of the activities of the Organization for European Security and Cooperation? In what way would Russia like to reform this organization?

Lavrov: This is not a new topic. We would like to reform it so it would go back to its origin and become what it used to be when it was established: an organization uniting all of its members acting on the basis of equality, mutual respect and mutual account of interests, acting on the basis of consensus and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation on a balance basis in the sphere of security, economy and humanitarian sphere.

In the past years there has been a clear bias in the OSCE activities. Security and economic issues have virtually been forgotten, while the humanitarian sphere has been seen by many OSCE members as letting them, while not discussing problems of interest to others, focus on control over the development of democracy and the state of human rights in the former Soviet Union.

This is clearly not the approach outlined in the Helsinki Act when the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe was formed. This is not the approach fixed when the conference was transformed into an organization.

We want to add more clarity to the way the organization is functioning, the way the organization approaches, for example, the monitoring of inactions in various countries. The OSCE has long had on its table proposals from Russia and a whole range of other countries aimed at working up common approaches and particular criteria for election monitoring and for evaluating election results. This would allow making those evaluations clear and avoiding a situation when a small group of observers, two dozen individuals, immediately pass a positive verdict, while being unable to see the overall situation. In other cases similar small groups make negative verdicts, while the list of potential violations may be the same. So, we should avoid subjective approaches. We need to have objective criteria clear to all organization members.

Analysis of election practices in OSCE member countries would perhaps be interesting so there would be no attempts by this or that party to say: your election practice is different from that we have. Therefore, I am a democratic party, and you are not.

This would also be useful perhaps. But for some reason our partners have avoided any dialogue on those issues, and they have avoided our proposal to work up the rules of procedure for the OSCE. The organization works without any rules of procedure, without any budget approved on a permanent basis. The OSCE has long had a one- time budget. Several years ago it was formed on an ad hoc basis, and it has since been approved on this basis for each year. Perhaps, this is not the right approach if we want it to be a real organization, rather than some vague forum.

Besides, as I have said we would like the OSCE which once played a very important role in ensuring European security, to return to this function. We have proposed that the OSCE should carry out comparative analysis of military doctrines of member countries. More than ten years have passed since such analysis was last carried out in the OSCE framework, and everyone found this useful. At the current stage, as NATO has enlarged and the Untied States has been reviewing the configuration of its military presence overseas, this analysis of military doctrines would perhaps be quite useful from the point of view of confidence building in this important sphere.

So, our position concerning the OSCE is that we are willing to strengthen it on the foundations it was formed on.

Q: The Russian Foreign Ministry has recently commented on developments in the South of Serbia in the context of, as it was said, the complex situation in Kosovo. Is Russia ready to put more acutely the question of observance of requirements by the Kosovo authorities? Could you comment on yet another demand that Belgrade should extradite generals charged in the Hague? Thank you.

Lavrov: Perhaps, it is necessary to understand what you mean when you are saying about whether or not Russia is ready to raise more acutely the question of the need to observe the international community's requirements concerning settlement in Kosovo.

If you mean that we should make some statements and demand that those decisions should be observed, we have made such statements. As for me, I believe that it is important, rather than raising issues, to make sure that the decisions made by the United Nations and its Security Council on Kosovo settlement should be observed.

It is huge responsibility because things have not gone in Kosovo the way the UN Security Council has demanded. There is virtually no security for minorities. Serbs and other minorities have only returned there in very small numbers. Provisional government bodies n Kosovo have virtually openly moved towards laying the ground for independence. Statements by some members of the international community about the need to review the observance of standards have increasingly reminded attempts to speed up resolving the Kosovo status problem before those standards are really implemented. We are worried about that. We have repeatedly pointed out the risks inherent in undue haste, let alone an attempt to anticipate the process of determination of the status of Kosovo. Obviously, among other things, a dialogue is needed between the provisional self-government bodies in Kosovo and all the minorities. And of course a dialogue is needed with Belgrade. Without it long- term and lasting decisions can hardly be worked out. We will consistently seek compliance with the Security Council resolution on how to go about the problem of Kosovo and what preliminary conditions should be created for that purpose.

Regarding cooperation with the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Russia believes such cooperation is necessary. This is mandatory under the Security Council resolutions and this is our position. At the same time we believe that it is probably not right to link the prospects of the development of cooperation between Europe and Serbia entirely to the question of the arrest, the whereabouts and the search for this or that leader.

Q: Your visit to Armenia will begin in mid-February. What are the main issues that will be discussed during your visit? And the second question. For 14 years, more than 14 years, there has been no rail link between Russia and its main strategic partner, Armenia. How can this issue be resolved?

Lavrov: The visit will be devoted to the obvious issues in the development of our bilateral relations which are many- sided indeed. There is a large Armenian Diaspora living and working in Russia. There is the Congress of Armenians in Russia just like a Congress of the Azeris living in Russia. The whole range of bilateral relations will be reviewed during my trip to Yerevan. Needless to say, the participation of our states in the CIS, the CSTO, all the issues of the reform of the Commonwealth of Independent States will be considered as a follow-up to the consultations that the Foreign Ministry representatives have already had in Yerevan with the Armenian leadership.

The Karabakh settlement will obviously be discussed in the same vein as I have mentioned when answering the question about my trip to Azerbaijan. Russia as the co-chair of the OSCE group is interested in finding mutually acceptable solutions, in having the parties find mutually acceptable solutions that would close this issue and remove that irritant from the agenda.

Regarding the railway link, as you know, it depends not only or largely on Russia, but on some of our neighbors. We expect that in the context of the general progress of our dialogue with Georgia we will be able to solve the issue of restoring the railway link between Sochi and Tbilisi which will help to address that long- standing and legitimate concern of Armenia.

Q: Of late we have been hearing reports about terrorist acts in Saudi Arabia and more recently in Kuwait. You have said that Russia has been taking some measures to combat terrorism together with other countries, that it has been signing agreements or protocols. Do you have concrete agreements or protocols on counter-terrorism with Arab countries? And what do you think of the measures taken by the Arab states to combat terrorism?

Lavrov: We have special documents on the program of counter- terrorist actions with a number of countries. We are aware of the interest on the part of the Arab states, including the Gulf states in developing interaction with us on these matters.

We are engaged in a dialogue on this topic with practically all the countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia. The dialogue covers the problem of security as a whole, including the fight against terrorism. We feel that our partners in the region and in the Arab world as a whole and in the Persian Gulf are taking steps to fight terrorism, for example, by preventing the use of their territories to raise the funds that are later used to finance terrorist activities. Such measures are being taken and we take note of them and expect them to continue.

Q: The second part of the question. Does Russia continue to seek the return of two Russian citizens from Qatar?

Lavrov: You probably didn't follow the press reports very attentively. Our holidays started on January 1, but you probably started celebrating earlier.

Thank you. I hope to see many of you tonight, but that will be a reception and not a continuation of the press conference.

Yakovenko: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, in an hour the transcript of this press conference will be put up, as usual, on the Foreign Ministry web site. And by evening the full text of the press conference will be available.

Lavrov: Thank you.