What should we expect from the talks on Syria in Astana?

by Sophie Mangal for The International Reporter: 

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The majority of armed insurgents fighting in the country come from over 100 different countries around the world and most are not Syrians.

At the beginning of March 2017, it will be exactly six years since the start of the conflict in Syria. 

Many journalists are making unfavorable forecasts about the possibility of reconciliation which has been complicated by foreign intervention.

The Israeli war in Lebanon, for example, lasted for about 15 years.

But for the Syrian people, six years is too long.

We hope that the meeting in Astana scheduled on January 23 will eventually lead to a positive result and there will be an occasion to consolidate the success of the negotiations in Geneva under the auspices of the UN.

What could the negotiations in Astana lead to?

THE LATEST STATEMENTS OF THE MAIN ACTORS

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Putin and Assad

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev backed the initiative to conduct the negotiations and announced his readiness to provide a platform and to support unconditional assistance to the peace process.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad is prepared to consider reaching an agreement on the Syrian crisis settlement with the anti-government forces and discuss any questions regarding the referendum on the new constitution of Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes that it is possible that a nationwide cease-fire will be signed as a result. Then practical negotiations on a political reconciliation might be launched.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is concerned about violations of the ceasefire agreement and that talks planned will not take place as a result . Russia and Turkey are working on the issue of implementing sanctions against those violating the ceasefire.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said at the briefing that the meeting in Kazakhstan is very important and depends on the truce observance in Syria. The UN expects that Russia and Turkey will influence the parties of the conflict to stop violence. The UN hopes to have positive results which will be used in Geneva talks scheduled on February 8.

Some opposition members have repeatedly made statements regarding the termination of the preparations for the meeting despite their commitments to form a delegation for the talks with the Syrian authorities in Astana.

John Kirby, the press secretary of the US State Department commented that the United States will not object if the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura abandoned the meeting in Astana. It appears that the U.S. opposes UN involvement and distances itself from the talks which in the end may benefit the meeting’s participants.

The cooperation of Russia, Turkey and Iran proved its effectiveness over December 2016 when more than 100,000 people were evacuated from Aleppo during the largest humanitarian campaign in history without US involvement.

REASONS WHY ASTANA COULD WORK OUT

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Putin and Erdogan

Ala’a Arafat, a member from the Change and Liberation Front opposition party, expected commitment from the parties involved in the current cease-fire, despite each side accusing the other of breaches.

According to CCTV, he pointed out that the recent deal was concluded between Russia and Turkey only, two of the most influential powers from each side of the conflict directly involved, excluding the U.S. and other regional players, such as the Gulf States.

The absence of the U.S. involvement in the deal will have a positive impact because Americans and Europeans were behind the failure of previous deals, either directly or indirectly. So far the current Turkish-Russian agreement appears to be better than the one struck between Russia and the United States late last year. Arafat noted that the U.S.-Russian deal was compromised by the U.S.-led strike on Syria’s army posts in Deir al-Zour last September, killing over 90 Syrian soldiers, enabling IS to benefit from the Syrian army’s losses.

It’s also worth noting that Russia and Turkey named themselves as “guarantors” of the cease-fire, and stated that the next step will be holding talks in Astana. Both pledged to monitor the deal and prevent any potential breach, which translated into a strong guarantee for both the government and the opposition forces.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said last week that the cease-fire is a potential starting point for a political process, speaking highly of the chances of success, due to what he called the “strong guarantees” from Moscow. The opposition rebels hold the same view, as they have unwavering trust in Ankara due to Turkey’s support of the rebels in Syria which was crucial for their survival when facing the Russian-backed administration of President Bashar al-Assad.

In the new talks, armed factions are going to be present to discuss political negotiations. The main obstacle up until now has been the representation of the opposition groups, particularly the Saudi-supported Higher Negotiations Committee which played an “obstructionist role,” demanding the departure of Assad as a prerequisite to any negotiations, which is the stance of their Saudi Arabian backers.

CONCLUSION

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Before and after the war.

Although Russia and Turkey seek different goals in the Syrian conflict, the sides were able to broker an agreement.

The large-scale operation of evacuating civilians and militants from Aleppo is one indication that the successful cooperation between the two sides may continue. Moreover, from January 9, 2017, Turkey will witness the start of consultations between Iranian, Russian and Turkish diplomats held to discuss the Astana meeting.

Thus, the Astana meeting is pivotal to a peaceful solution for Syria after six years of bloody conflict and it is hoped that this will be expanded on in the future as a road map regulating the Syrian crisis in the short term.

The envisagened outcome is a form of power transition, amnesty for the opposition and the date set for the referendum on Constitution. Moreover, the full ceasefire agreement is expected to be fully implemented during the meeting in Astana. The sides should also draft the further peace process and lay out the issues to be discussed in Geneva.

The Astana talks could be a historic chance to end the crisis and should succeed

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