Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Astana Talks: Before and After | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55366541

Participants of Syria peace talks attend the meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan. REUTERS/ Mukhtar Kholdorbekov

Moscow- The peace talks held in Astana ended with results which differed according to the views of participating and organizing parties. However, the Syrians’ long awaited ceasefire that puts an end to their suffering was not reached. Therefore, it seems that the required changes in the Syrian scene and the political settlement were not among the goals set in the talks’ schedule.

However, this goal has become a serious challenge for Turkey, Iran, and Russia, which were considered capable of guaranteeing a ceasefire in Syria. Although these countries pledged to form committees to handle the implementation of decisions taken in Astana, it seems that these countries will lead the Syrian crisis to more complications.
Statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Japan in mid-December marked the beginning of negotiations called the “Astana Journey.”

At that time, Putin announced that Moscow has launched talks with different armed factions from the Syrian opposition with a Turkish mediator. He also stressed his agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan to hold a meeting for negotiations in Astana. From its part, Kazakhstan greeted the idea for the talks and said it was ready to host them.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran have all agreed on the importance of holding negotiations among the different fighting factions to set the mechanisms of a ceasefire in Syria. Consequently, the factions that inked the temporary ceasefire of December 29 in Syria were invited to convene in Astana.

Iran and the U.S.

Despite all efforts made by Ankara and Russia, the launching of the talks faced many obstacles, as the regime and its allies insisted on breaching the December ceasefire. The Turkish Foreign Minister said these breaches may thwart attempts to hold the intended talks.

Iran also played a negative role during preparations for the Astana negotiations after it refused any U.S. participation. This stance caused some tension in the Tehran-Moscow relations, especially after Sergei Lavrov’s statements on the importance of involving the United Nations and the new U.S. administration in these negotiations. Eventually, Iran resigned to the Russian will and accepted the U.S participation; apparently, Tehran was concerned from a possible rapprochement between Washington and Moscow due to its stubborn rejection.

Negotiations among fighting parties

Negotiations kicked off on January 23 and the Russian Foreign Minister said that the main goal of the talks was to reach a ceasefire and to involve military leaders in a political solution for the Syrian crisis. All the opposition factions were in Astana, including Jaish Al-Islam, which was led by Zahran Alloush. The regime was also represented by a delegation led by Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s permanent representative to the U.N., despite reservations expressed by Moscow on him.

Negotiations among international parties

The three delegations failed in reaching a settlement by the end of the first day of talks. The delegation representing the Syrian opposition said that the talks did not touch on political solutions and that any statement issued by major countries represents their own views.

The opposition also said that Iran, which aligns with the regime against the Syrian people in this war, cannot be considered a credible party in any ceasefire agreement. From its part, the regime’s delegation said that the parties succeeded in reaching a temporary ceasefire; however, they insisted to exclude the Barada Valley from the agreement, as this region hosts terrorists from Al-Nusra Front.

The Astana meeting’s final statement was issued on behalf of Russia, Turkey, and Iran. It stressed the three countries’ commitment to the unity of Syrian territories, saying the military option cannot be a solution for the war. The final statement also expressed the three countries’ support for the participation of the armed opposition in the Geneva talks set to be held in February and insisted on excluding ISIS and Nusra.

Failure versus allegations of success

The final statement of the Astana talks has reflected an obvious failure in motivating Syrian parties toward reaching a national agreement. The countries leading the talks pledged to set a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire. However, the issue remained pending.

According to Russia’s Foreign Minister, the talks have taken the efforts in ending the Syrian war to a new level, and Putin hoped these talks will pave the way for the Geneva meeting.

Yet, the Russian statements on preparing a draft for a new constitution have provoked the majority of Syrians and raised many question marks on the future of Syria’s independence. According to Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, the proposal of a new constitution only aims at encouraging the Syrian people to discuss the political future of their country.