Beirut – A positive atmosphere prevailed over the tripartite talks held in Moscow on the Syrian crisis, official Turkish sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s meeting – which gathered the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran – stressed the need to reach a solution to the ongoing war, starting with the establishment of a comprehensive truce across the Syrian territories.
Participants also agreed on deploying further efforts to fight terrorism and targeting all terrorist groups that obstruct the implementation of the ceasefire, the sources said.
They added that while the meeting did not see any classification of terrorist groups, Turkey has vowed to continue its attacks against terrorist organizations in northern Syria, such as ISIS and the Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK), in reference to the Syrian Kurdish militants.
The sources noted that participants have informed the Iranian representatives that Shi’ite groups, which fail to abide by the truce, would also be targeted.
With regards to the fate of head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad, the sources said that the latter’s name was not mentioned on the discussion table, adding however that Russia has talked about a two-year transitional period, which would open the way for further deliberations on this matter.
The official sources also said that Turkey has called for the participation of Saudi Arabia in the next phase of discussions, stressing that Riyadh’s presence would support the Turkish stance in the negotiation process.
Meanwhile, many observers said that the United States has been disregarded in such high-level talks on Syria. They added that the limited U.S. influence on the ongoing discussions has further strengthened Russia’s position in the region.
Similarly to the United States, the Syrian opposition forces were not generally satisfied with the outcome of the tripartite meeting, especially that it coincided with what the opposition described as “a forced displacement of Aleppo citizens from their city”.
On a different note, U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura welcomed the joint declaration that was issued at the outset of the tripartite meeting on Tuesday.
The international envoy described the meeting as an important step towards the resumption of peace talks between the Syrian warring parties on February 8.
The joint declaration highlighted the necessity to discard the military options, widen the scope of the ceasefire and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians across the country.
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, Riad Naassan Agha, stressed the need to guarantee the safety of civilians in parallel with the truce implementation.
In comments to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Agha warned against a “holocaust” against the Syrian people, denouncing the forced displacement of Aleppo citizens into the region of Idlib.
Agha added that the tripartite meeting did not see any comprehensive agreement over the peaceful political process in Syria, including Assad’s fate. He also said that the Syrian opposition forces have not received any invitation to attend the upcoming talks in Geneva and Astana.
Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, Former Lebanese Ambassador to Washington Riad Tabbara said he believed that the purpose of Tuesday’s tripartite meeting was to “assist the United Nations in setting up a strategy that would contribute to resolving the crisis in Syria”.
“What is noteworthy in the meeting that was held in Russia is the marginalization of the United States; this confirms the withdrawal of the outgoing U.S. Administration from the Middle East and opens wide doors to Moscow to take these issues into its own hands,” Tabbara said.
Meanwhile, Dennis Ross, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who was an adviser on Iran and the Middle East to both Democratic and Republican administrations, said the United States had made itself “irrelevant” in Syria.
“The opposition finds little reason to be responsive to us and Assad; The Russians and Iran know that there is nothing we will do to raise the costs to them of their onslaught against Aleppo and other Syrian cities,” Ross was quoted by Reuters as saying.
“Russia, having changed the balance of power on the ground, without regard to civilian consequences, has moved to make itself an arbiter,” he added.
On the other hand, a spokesman for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rejected reports that America’s absence from the meeting indicated a change in influence.
“The secretary doesn’t see this as a snub at all. He sees it as another multilateral effort to try to get a lasting peace in Syria and he welcomes any progress towards that,” State Department spokesman John Kirby, quoted by Reuters, said on Tuesday.
“We would obviously refute any notion that … the fact that we weren’t at this one meeting is somehow a harbinger or a litmus test for U.S. influence and leadership there or anywhere else around the world,” Kirby said, adding that Washington was still engaged in the region on many other issues.
“We are not excluded, we are not being sidelined,” he added.