March 24, 2017

Syria peace talks: 'Tense' discussions underway in Kazakhstan

24 January 2017, 12:40 | Ella Tate

Mohammed Alloush head of a Syrian opposition delegation attends talks on Syrian peace in Astana Kazakhstan Monday Jan. 23 2017. | AP


The local USA ambassador was present, while several Western envoys for Syria were also in Astana to observe developments.

Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition on Monday traded barbs over interpretations of a ceasefire brokered by Russian Federation and Turkey in late December, as their respective regional backers met behind closed doors to keep the meeting on track.

Two-day talks brokered by Russian Federation and Turkey and aimed at extending the ceasefire in war-torn Syria have begun in the Kazakh capital of Astana without the participation of representatives from the West.

Negotiations Monday are expected to focus on cementing a nation-wide ceasefire mediated by Russia, Iran, and Turkey in December that has largely held.

The Special Envoy said that he hoped by strengthening the ceasefire at the Astana meeting "we could see in Geneva genuine intra-Syrian negotiations", referring to the 8 February negotiations to be held under the auspices of the UN.

U.N. Special Envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is participating in the talks that officially begin Monday afternoon and will last at least until Tuesday. (Actually, given how factional the rebels are, it would be better to say all sides.) The Syrian government had previously stated it wanted nothing less than a comprehensive political resolution to the civil war.

Turkey and Iran are co-sponsors of the talks, but it is Moscow that has thrown its prestige behind the effort to bring the warring factions together, leaving little doubt that this is a Russian-led process, diplomats said.

"But at the same time, it is a completely new format when Russia, Iran, and Turkey with participation of official Syrian government, with participation of military opposition taking part", he notes.

Syria's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari will represent the Syrian government at the talks while the foreign-backed armed opposition groups will be represented by chief negotiator Mohammad Alloush.

"The talks are the latest of many in Syria's almost six-year civil war, but they're unusual in that they do not have significant presence from the United States or the United Nations".

Russian Federation has announced the difference is complicating the talks, saying, "It is obvious that without the United States it is impossible to resolve the Syrian issue".

According to the PYD co-Chair Salih Muslim, excluding the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the Astana meeting was a mistake, limiting the talks' scope and breadth.

The parties to the intra-Syrian talks in Astana have not yet agreed on the issues related to the ceasefire regime and the fight against terrorism, he said.

But in Astana, the 14-member opposition delegation is composed exclusively of rebels leading the armed uprising, backed by almost two dozen legal and political advisers.

Mr Assad has said he would give amnesty to insurgents who lay down their arms but they are unlikely to agree at this juncture.

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