Russia invites US to Syria talks in Astana – Lavrov

Russia invites US to Syria talks in Astana – Lavrov
Russia has already invited the United States to take part in the upcoming talks on Syria, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the press.

"As I said yesterday, we have already invited [the US]," Lavrov told journalists in Moscow on Thursday.

US officials have been invited to the international meeting on the Syrian settlement which will be held in Kazakh capital Astana on Monday, January 23.

“We think it would be the right thing to invite the representatives of the UN and the new US administration to the meeting,” Lavrov had said on Wednesday, at a press conference summing up the results of Russian foreign policy in 2016.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Farhan Haq told RIA Novosti on Wednesday that the UN “has received an invitation to take part” and will attend. He added that the UN representatives will “try to give maximum support” to the negotiations. UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has also been invited to the talks, though his humanitarian advisor, Jan Egeland, said on Thursday the UN’s role at the talks was still under discussion.

I do however take it for granted that Russia, Turkey, Iran, will understand the immense responsibility they take upon themselves as guarantors of an agreement of another process to enable a new beginning for the civilian population of Syria,” Egeland told reporters in Geneva.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad has said the peace talks in Astana will focus on achieving a ceasefire and allowing rebel groups to reach “reconciliation” deals with the government.

So far, we believe that Astana will be about talks with terrorist groups over a ceasefire and allowing them to reach reconciliation deals,” Assad said in an interview with Japanese media outlet TBS, parts of which were published on the president’s Twitter feed on Thursday.

Assad said he hoped the conference in Astana would be a platform to discuss “everything” with opposition groups, but noted it was too early to say whether the meeting would include political dialogue “because it is not clear who will participate." The Syrian leader also expressed hope that the incoming US administration was sincere when it announced the intention to create a unified coalition against terrorism.

Russia’s own delegation to the talks in Astana will include representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov revealed on Thursday. He also noted that Russia supports the possible expansion of the Syrian opposition delegation to the negotiations opposition delegation to the negotiations, which currently represents 14 militant groups. 

The total number of groups that are represented by their leaders is only 14. This means that 14 groups have joined the ceasefire agreement, but we advocate for more to join,” Bogdanov said, as cited by RIA Novosti.

A number of Syrian rebel groups indeed confirmed that they will attend the peace talks in Astana. A leader of Jaysh al-Islam, Mohammed Alloush, said he would head the rebel delegation and work to end the “crimes” of the government and its allies.

All the rebel groups are going. Everyone has agreed,” Alloush told AFP news agency on Monday. The High Negotiations Committee, Syria's main opposition bloc, last week also stated that it would support the delegation attending the talks.

However, the pro-opposition Shaam News Network reported earlier this week that several other rebel groups, including Ahrar al-Sham, one of the main fighting forces on the ground, plan to boycott the talks over the army’s offensive on the village of Wadi Barada.