An interview with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will attend a meeting of G8 foreign affairs ministers in Moscow today. In this interview, she discusses Russian-British relations, the G8 summit agenda, Iran’s nuclear program, and the future of relations between Russia and the European Union.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will attend a meeting of G8 foreign affairs ministers in Moscow today.

Question: This is your first visit to Russia in the capacity of foreign secretary. How would you assess the current level of relations between our two countries?

Margaret Beckett: Britain considers Russia an important partner. We cooperate on a broad range of issues – from Iran to energy resources. In the economic area, British-Russian trade turnover exceeded 7 billion pounds last year, an increase of 2 billion pounds over the previous year. Britain is working closely with Russia in the lead-up to the G8 summit, to be held in St. Petersburg for the first time, sharing our experience and helping to ensure a smooth transition of the G8 chairmanship from our country to yours. We hope to achieve some positive practical results at the summit. Of course, we do have some differences of opinion. For example, we are expressing our concern to the Russian leadership on issues related to human rights and the rule of law. British courts have rejected extradition requests for some prominent opponents of the Russian authorities, and this annoys the latter; so does the fact that the British government cannot impose political decisions on our independent judicial system. All the same, we are able to discuss such differences within the framework of a normal working relationship.

Question: Which topics does Britain propose to discuss during the meeting of G8 foreign affairs ministers in Moscow? What do you expect from the upcoming G8 summit in St. Petersburg, and from Russia as the chairman?

Margaret Beckett: The agreed-upon agenda for the meeting of G8 foreign affairs ministers covers a broad range of current foreign policy issues, including the situations in Iran, North Korea, the Middle East, Africa, and Afghanistan. I’m counting on a productive discussion of all these topics. I hope the upcoming G8 summit in Russia will be successful, helping to reinforce the fundamental economic and democratic values on which the G8 is based. In particular, I hope this summit will send a powerful message about the importance of open, competitive, and transparent energy resources markets.

Question: The president of Iran stated recently that his country will reply to the six-country proposal by August 22. What do you think of the stance Tehran is taking here? How would you assess cooperation between the West and Russia on resolving the Iranian nuclear problem?

Margaret Beckett: We remain deeply disturbed by the uranium enrichment work which is continuing in Iran. As the latest report from IAEA Director General Mohammed al-Baradei shows, Iran isn’t being sufficiently cooperative with the IAEA and has not taken the required steps to strengthen trust, as identified by the IAEA and the UN Security Council. The six countries negotiating with Iran, with support from Javier Solana EU High Commissioner for Common Foreign Policy and Security Policy – author’s note, are maintaining a flexible approach. We have developed a selection of constructive proposals that offer Iran the opportunity to possess all that is required for a modern nuclear power program, while also taking international concerns into account. In order for negotiations to go ahead, Iran must comply with the IAEA Board’s demands: that includes stopping work on uranium enrichment. Once it does that, we will stop action within the UN Security Council. After presenting these proposals, we expected an answer from Iran within a few weeks, not months. So we’re hoping for a rapid and positive response. Britain and other European countries are continuing to work closely with Russia on this issue. I’m glad that we managed to make some progress at our meeting in Vienna. We all want to reinforce the authority of the multilateral non-proliferation regime and ensure that Iran complies with its obligations. Thus, it’s important for the international community to have a common front on this issue.

Question: What are the prospects for energy cooperation between London and Moscow? Do you share the concerns expressed by a number of EU member states about the North European Gas Pipeline project, and how would you comment on Moscow’s opinion that it doesn’t need to sign the European Energy Charter?

Margaret Beckett: Britain strongly supports the existence of liberal, transparent, and open markets for energy resources. This approach is advantageous for Britain, and we believe it could be advantageous for Russia. We regard the Energy Charter as a key mechanism for reinforcing these principles, and we are still trying to persuade Russia to ratify this charter, which was signed back in 1994. Ratification would yield some indisputable benefits for Russia. For example, it should substantially improve the investment climate, at a time when investors aren’t quite sure of Russia’s intentions and markets are unstable. In order to meet common demands for energy resources, it’s certainly important that oil and gas infrastructure should be based on liberal market principles, including those concerning transparent price formation for energy resources and fair access to pipelines.

Question: In your view, what should be the model for Russia-EU relations? What are the prospects of further European Union expansion – especially with regard to membership for the Balkans states, Turkey, or perhaps Ukraine and Georgia?

Margaret Beckett: Any model for the future of EU-Russia relations requires the support and consent of both sides. We are presently working together to deterimine what should replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that regulates EU-Russia relations. We started discussing the future form of our relationship while Britain held the rotating presidency of the EU. We need to ensure that this important relationship becomes more effective, yielding practical results for both sides, not least by charting road-maps for strengthening cooperation in the economy, justice and internal affairs, and foreign policy, as well as culture, science, and education. As for the future of the EU, we believe that the European Union should keep its doors open, and every European country should be able to strive for EU membership. Joining the EU has brought its members a great many economic, political, social, and cultural advantages. However, any country that strives for EU membership must comply with the required political, social, and economic obligations and standards.

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