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A Visit to Russia by Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, April 12-15, 2017

Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali paid a visit to Russia at the invitation of Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov on April 12-15, 2017. The visit marked the 45th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Russia and Bangladesh and included negotiations between the foreign ministers of the two countries, meetings of Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali with Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications of Russia Nikolay Nikiforov, Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee Alexey Miller and Governor of Leningrad Oblast Alexander Drozdenko.

On the sidelines of the visit, Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Information of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on the cooperation in the field of mass communications and Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between the ITAR TASS News Agency (TASS) and Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) were signed.

Mr Minister,

Colleagues,

We are happy to welcome you to Moscow. Mr Minister, we met six months ago in New York, where we signed a bilateral agreement on visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and service passports. This instrument came into force on February 12 and is of much help as it facilitates the organisation of joint events, including today’s talks.

We greatly value the relations of traditional friendship between our two countries. Our political dialogue, including at the highest level, grows more intensive. We appreciate the results of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the Russian Federation in January 2013. Last year, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of ASEM in Ulan Bator.  

Our foreign ministries maintain regular contacts at the level of deputy ministers and department directors. There are also good relations between members of parliament. A few days ago, Dhaka hosted the latest assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was attended by a large delegation from the Russian State Duma.

Today we have a good opportunity to review the implementation of agreements reached by our national leaders and the tasks we can address additionally for the benefit of our peoples and states. We will also see what issues confront us in the international arena.

Thank you once again for accepting our invitation. Welcome!

 

We had substantive and meaningful talks.

Bangladesh is our reliable partner in South Asia. In January, we marked the 45th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between our states. Today, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali warmly recalled the role Russia played in supporting his country’s independence.

We noted that we improved mutual trust and reached new levels of cooperation during these 45 years. Successful examples of our joint work include the entry into force of a bilateral agreement on visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and service passports in February of this year.

We examined the current state of and prospects for our cooperation. Mutual interest in building up political dialogue and trade and economic ties is clearly there. As of the end of 2016, we had a record-high trade turnover, just like the year before, which exceeded $1.4 billion. Notably, the bulk of Russian exports are engineering products. Bangladesh is also a major importer of Russian wheat.

We have analysed the progress of a joint project to build the Rooppur NPP, the first in Bangladesh. We are on the same page with regard to the fact that the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation will help speed up practical cooperation across all areas. The decision to create it was adopted last month when the Intergovernmental Agreement was signed.

We have close and, in most cases, congruent positions on issues of the regional and international agenda.

We agreed to continue coordination on key multilateral platforms, primarily the UN, as well as in various formats that operate in the Asia-Pacific region, where Russia and Bangladesh are represented.

We share a common view about the lack of an alternative to harmonising the efforts of all countries in fighting international terrorism. As you are aware, at one time President Putin advanced a relevant initiative to form a broad anti-terrorist front. Since then, its relevance has only increased. We look forward to it gaining more and more supporters. Bangladesh, of course, is one such country.

We discussed issues related to the strengthening of our legal and contractual framework. Work is underway on about 15 agreements. We agreed on a work schedule in order to see to it that they are finalised and signed.

We welcome the efforts of Bangladesh to promote stability in South Asia and expressed our support for these efforts.

In general, I am pleased with our talks. I hope they will help step up our productive cooperation.

Question (addressed to both ministers): You mentioned Russia's great contribution to the war for independence in Bangladesh and to the post-war reconstruction of the country. However, from the mid-1970s until recently, when the countries resumed their cooperation, relations did not make any significant progress. How do you see prospects for promoting bilateral relations given the changes in the international situation?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali): I can only confirm that we not only have a good level of relations in all areas, but we also have very ambitious and constructive agreements on promoting them in all areas. For example, there is the flagship project of the construction of a nuclear power plant. We are actively promoting our political dialogue and trade and economic cooperation. An Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation has just been created. Military-technical cooperation is developing and will continue to develop. There is interest in increasing the number of Bangladeshis receiving civilian and military education in Russia. We have good cultural and humanitarian ties. In all these areas, as well as in foreign policy, and regional and international affairs, we have complete mutual understanding. There is not a single problem in our relations. There are, as I mentioned earlier, agreed-upon plans on how to move forward and at what pace.

Question (to Sergey Lavrov): After yesterday's statement by US President Donald Trump that NATO is not an obsolete organisation, it is clear that American politicians often not only contradict one another or themselves, but also that the US leader sometimes makes deeply contradictory statements. Does Russia fully understand the American position on many important issues? Is it difficult to conduct diplomatic work given these circumstances?

Sergey Lavrov: Diplomacy is not a simple occupation at all. In a situation where the new US Administration is still trying to formulate its approaches to international affairs, there are pauses in dealing with issues that could be resolved more effectively if there were Russia-US interaction. This is an objective process, and we are not trying to rush anyone. The goal of the US Administration is to formulate its positions and form a team, because this process is far from being accomplished at the State Department.

Unfortunately, in addition to natural objective factors, there are subjective circumstances connected with those who want to hamper the work of the Trump Administration, including issues concerning relations with the Russian Federation. They want to prevent the healing of the wounds that have been inflicted on these relations by the Obama Administration, and use the Russian card in the internal political strife. This is regrettable, but we can do nothing about it, except that we ask for facts to be produced when we are accused of something. There’s not a single fact, although under pressure from President Trump’s opponents, the White House is forced to periodically make some statements containing allegations against us. I believe yesterday we were accused at a White House briefing of interfering with elections in Montenegro last year. They brought this up for some reason. They also said that Russia is involved in a disinformation campaign to help President al-Assad avoid being held accountable for the recent chemical attack.

I discussed this yesterday with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The situation in Syria was one of the main topics. It seemed to me we had convincingly enough clarified our reasons for organising a dedicated independent study on the basis of the entities created at the UN and the OPCW. Given the colossal and fairly confrontational response to what happened in Syria, we proposed complementing these entities with professional inspectors in this field who would be invited from Western countries, Russia and the countries of the region. It seemed to me that Secretary Tillerson was receptive to the idea and promised to work it out. We even suggested that Russia, in conjunction with the United States, should put forward such an initiative. He was not ready for this, so we made this proposal in a national capacity, as Russia’s proposal. In parallel with this process (in my opinion, a very logical, objective and necessary one) without any clear consultations, the United States, France and Great Britain yesterday put to vote a draft resolution that formally focused on the need to investigate what happened. However, it was formulated unilaterally and crammed with demands exclusively to the Government of Syria to open access to all its military facilities. There was no indication that it was necessary to investigate the site of the incident in the Idlib province. When asked why they are not giving any attention to the need to visit not only the airfield, which they suspect was the place where chemical weapons were loaded into the planes, but also the site itself, which came under the attack, our American, French and British colleagues said they aren’t sure who controls this area, and sending inspectors there is not safe. These are just excuses. Everyone is perfectly aware that the area that came under Syrian air strikes has been controlled by ISIS for six years now (since 2011), and that this area, according to available information, was used to produce chemical weapons that were later used in Iraq and Syria. If our Western partners refuse to include in the relevant resolution the demand for the supporters of extremists in this area to grant access to inspectors, this means they are afraid of ascertaining the truth.

We want the inspectors to take a transparent, independent and professional look at the airfield, from which, as our Western colleagues claim, the aircraft with chemical weapons took off, and also to go to the site that came under attack. Only an inspection like this can be objective. If they want to take only one-sided steps, that means they know something. By the way, UK online resources, the Financial Times, offer much evidence from British and other foreign experts who are very seriously questioning the scenario offered by our American colleagues which they use to justify their attacks on the Syrian airfield.

We are very concerned by our foreign partners in the UN Security Council trying to escape an honest investigation into this episode. Today, the OPCW Executive Council is meeting in the Hague for an extraordinary session. We submitted our proposal on forming such a delegation on the basis of this organisation with the involvement of additional inspectors, which is necessary, given the colossal and not very constructive public reaction to this story.

Returning to your question, we take a philosophical approach to what is happening. We do not feel any joy about it. I'll reiterate what I said yesterday. The talks with Secretary Tillerson were useful. I believe they helped the US Administration to better understand our position. It is important that they formulate their approaches to the issues on which Russia and the United States can productively cooperate.

Question: Сommenting on the results of Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, President Trump said that the US Secretary of State had done a tremendous job here, but its results will not be seen in the near future. What do you think and feel about that visit? How long will it take before our relations with Washington are normalised?

Sergey Lavrov: This is the same topic that I touched upon in my answer to the previous question. I already said that I liked how things went yesterday. First of all, the President had a very important conversation with the Secretary of State, which lasted over two hours. We had talks before the meeting in the Kremlin and following the news conference. By the way, we also talked informally for about an hour about opportunities that are opening up.

Probably, the results will not come soon, but at least in the operational plan we agreed to establish a dialogue on a number of important issues, including taking inventory of the issues that were created by the previous administration in our bilateral relations. We also agreed to establish mechanisms on issues related to implementing existing bilateral treaties in the military-political sphere designed to bring together or better understand our positions on various regional crises, especially with regard to the Syrian settlement. Just three years ago, Russia and the United States sought to form an international support group for the Syrian settlement. We will see.

I repeat, such agreements have, in principle, been achieved. Now, we will take practical steps to form dialogue mechanisms. This is important in and of itself. It is always better to talk with each other than to speak into a microphone and tell each other about what you think about the opposite number without looking into his or her eyes. This is not a quick process, but at least if what has been agreed upon at the methodological level will begin to be implemented, it will already be useful.

Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications of Russia Nikolay Nikiforov and Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali held a working meeting on April 13, 2017 to discuss bilateral cooperation in the fields of mass communications and information technologies.

During the meeting, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh witnessed signing of two MOUs, namely Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Information of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on the cooperation in the field of mass communications and Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between the ITAR TASS News Agency (TASS) and Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). These agreements are aimed at creating favourable conditions for a broad and free exchange of information about the life of the two nations.

Nikolay Nikiforov and Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali stressed the necessity to improve the legal basis of the bilateral cooperation in the ICT sphere which will enable to develop joint projects in telecommunications, postal communications, mass media, etc.

 

On April 14, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali visited Russian Joint Stock Company Gazprom headquarters in Moscow to meet its Chairman Alexey Miller.

The parties expressed their appreciation for the Company’s efforts in Bangladesh. It was noted that Gazprom had built 15 exploratory and development wells at seven fields in the country since 2013.

Alexey Miller and Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali discussed prospects for cooperation in oil and gas exploration and development with a focus on the implementation of the recently signed contract between Gazprom and the Petrobangla state-owned corporation for the construction of two prospecting and exploratory wells on Bhola Island in the south of Bangladesh.

 

On April 15, 2017, during the working trip to St. Petersburg, Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, MP met the Governor of Leningrad Oblast Alexander Drozdenko. The officials discussed prospects for developing trade and business ties between the region and Bangladesh.

The Governor briefed the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh on the growing economic importance of St. Petersburg as a trade and transit hub and expressed interest in cooperation with Bangladesh in pharmaceuticals industry, organic tea production and shipbuilding. Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali invited a delegation from Leningrad Oblast to visit Bangladesh and proposed to make Chittagong as St. Petersburg’s twining city.