January 23, 2017 - Fort Russ News -
A. Zakvasin & N. Alekseeva, RT - translated by J. Arnoldski
On Monday, January 23rd, negotiations on regulating the situation in Syria begin in Astana, Kazakhstan. For the first time, representatives of the official Syrian authorities and the opposition are ready to hold direct dialogue, a process which has been successfully achieved thanks to Russia, Turkey, and Iran’s mediation. In addition, these are the first such negotiations to be held without the US and its Western allies’ participation. The meeting in Astana is set to be a prologue to the next round of talks to be held on February 8th in Geneva, Switzerland.
Seven parties are gathering in Kazakhstan’s capital: representatives of the Syrian government, rebel forces, Russia, Turkey, Iran, the UN’s special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and US Ambassador to Kazakhstan, George Krol (who is present only as an observer). Damascus’ delegation is headed by the Syrian Arab Republic’s permanent representative to the UN, Bahar Al-Jaafari, while the Syrian opposition is represented by Mohammed Alloush, one of the leaders of the Jaish al-Islam group.
Russia’s delegation is headed by Russia’s special envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentev. From Iran, deputy foreign minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari is present, and the deputy advisor to the Turkish foreign ministry on Middle Eastern and African affairs, Sedat Onal, has come from Turkey. The main aim of the negotiations is creating some kind of road map to settle the conflict.
The negotiations are supposed to conclude on Tuesday morning, but the organizers have not ruled out that the talks could be extended for an unknown period of time.
Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran’s diplomatic efforts have managed to gather representatives of 12 of the armed groups operating in Syria, only five of which are involved in the ceasefire in effect since December 29th.
In particular, Damascus will try to negotiate with Jaish al-Islam (“Army of Islam”) whose representatives adhere to Salafist ideology. According to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, around 12,000 people fight for this group, which has been noted as one of the most militants organizations. Another radical grouping, Ahrar ash-Sham (The Islamic Movement of the Free Men of Sham), did not come to Astana. Both Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar ash-Sham advocate the introduction of religious laws in Syria but publicly condemn the Islamic State.
On January 22nd, following consultations with Russia’s partners, Alexander Lavrentev stated that Moscow has brought together Ankara and Tehran’s positions. “Today we managed to negotiate with the Iranian side and the Turkish side - negotiate in a trilateral format and bring our positions closer together on the majority of issues on the agenda,” Lavrentev reported.
Staffan de Mistura told RT that progress at the talks is possible if Russia, Turkey ,and Iran come out with mutually-agreed-upon positions. “Today we can say that if an agreement is reached at the meeting which could influence the sides of the conflict, then this will be an important step. Because if this leads to the stabilization of the situation, then we are fulfilling the wishes of Syrians,” de Mistura stated.
On January 22nd, Syria’s representative, Bashar Jaafari, told RT that the situation looks quite optimistic: “We are now summarizing the results of meetings with various sides. We still have no clear picture of tomorrow’s meeting, so all delegations have to work late today in order to arrive at a common denominator which could ensure that tomorrow’s meeting is a success.”
Jaafari believes that the opposition has come to the understanding that it is necessary to keep to a ceasefire and unite efforts against ISIS. According to him, this general approach must now be filled with concrete content.
Yahya al-Aridi, an advisor to the Syrian opposition’s delegation, expressed a similar point of view to RT. “In the military aspect, it is necessary to consolidate the ceasefire across all of Syria and find mechanisms to reinforce this ceasefire with the aid of high-precision observation and control in order to determine the violators of the ceasefire or truce,” he emphasized. Al-Aridi believes that the establishment of a lasting truth will become a platform for political dialogue: “If success is achieved on a strategic, not tactical basis, then perhaps this could be turned into strong political documents.”
The president of the Society for Friendship and Business Cooperation with Arab Countries, Vyacheslav Matuzov, told RT: “In the beginning, moving these negotiations to Kazakhstan was received by the Syrian opposition with great skepticism. Today the whole political weight of this political meeting has grown. It is clear to all sides that Astana is an important point on the path to political settlement in Geneva. The main question is the ongoing military operation, in the conditions of which it is very difficult to reach political agreements.”
Matuzov continued: “The meeting in Astana prescribes to formalize these agreements and give them real wings. This is a serious step towards resolving the Syrian crisis. The presence of 12 armed organizations of the Syrian opposition suggests that this first step has been made. In Geneva, the armed opposition refused to sit down at the negotiating table and communicated only through intermediaries.”
Senior researcher of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Russan Academy of Science’s Oriental Studies Institute, Boris Dolgov, urges everyone “not to feed unnecessary illusions.” He explained: “A very motley contingent of the opposition has gathered in Astana. A portion of these groups are affiliated with terrorist organizations such as Jebhat al-Nusra and ISIS, while some are fighting amongst each other.”
Dolgov explained the dynamics further: “Based on this, there can be no talk of a fundamental breakthrough. But the very holding of such a meeting is a positive fact. It is important enough that all the groups came to Astana to confirm a previously concluded agreement on a ceasefire. In the future, different scenarios can be proposed. Political settlement proposes dialogue between political forces, but it is difficult to hold political dialogue with armed groups.”
Dolgov is concerned by the participation of armed Wahhabi forces in the negotiations: “Such groups could be created with foreign money, but they present themselves as representatives of the interests of the population. Now the presence of an armed opposition is recognized by both Damascus and the Russian leadership. Time will tell just how productive these negotiations will be.”
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