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24 Jan, 2017 12:00

‘Dealing with enemies to save Syria’: Astana process paves way for Geneva talks

The talks on the Syrian peace process concluded in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, with the three guarantor countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran – issuing a joint statement establishing trilateral support for the Syrian ceasefire and paving the way for the Geneva talks due February 8.

Russia, Iran and Turkey have announced they will establish a trilateral mechanism to support the ceasefire in Syria. In a joint statement issued at the end of talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, they said the Syrian opposition had agreed to take part in peace talks on the issue set for Geneva, Switzerland.

“The delegations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey …support launching the talks between the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition in Astana on January 23-24, 2017,” said a joint statement on Tuesday.

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara “express their conviction that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and that it can only be solved though a political process.”

The sides also agreed to jointly fight terrorists from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), which alongside Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front) was not included in the negotiations. The trio suggested separating terrorists from Syrian armed opposition groups, and welcomed the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the Syrian crisis, which was adopted in December 2015.

Russia, Iran and Turkey said that they support the willingness of the armed opposition groups to take part in the next round of talks, which are scheduled for February 8 in Geneva.

The head of the Russian delegation in Astana, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, said that the trilateral operative group to monitor the ceasefire will start work in February. He added that representatives of the armed opposition groups would be invited to work together with the group.

Speaking about the monitoring mechanism, Lavrentiev said that Russia does not make distinctions as to which side violated the ceasefire and said that both sides have breached the truce. At the same time, he stressed the importance of prompt verification about the violations and added that many reports on such issues are fabricated.

‘Extremely painful’ to be in same room as Syrian armed rebels who committed terrorist acts – Damascus rep

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari told reporters it was “extremely painful” for the Damascus delegation to sit in the same room as Syrian armed groups “who committed terrorist acts.” He added that it was not the first time they had met, and that the government had to take the step for the sake of the Syrian people.

Jaafari said that he viewed the role of Turkey in the Syrian ceasefire as negative, but had to agree to cooperate to facilitate the peace process.
In politics sometimes we have to deal with enemies to save your country, and this is what we do,” he said.

Jaafari called the negotiations “a success” and expressed support for the joint statement earlier issued by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara.

"Finally we have a consensual paper [the joint statement] agreed upon by everybody," he said.

Answering a reporter’s question, he said that the Syrian government would continue its operation in the Wadi Barada area in the Damascus Countryside Province, as long as the people in the capital remain deprived of water.

Water from the pumping station at Ain al-Fijah in the Wadi Barada area was cut by the Damascus Water Authority in late December, after it said militants had contaminated the source, the Barada River, with diesel fuel. As a result, more than 5 million people have been without water for over two weeks.

Syrian armed opposition supports ceasefire, demands Assad step down 

Mohammed Alloush, leader of the Jaysh al-Islam militants, who headed the delegation of the Syrian armed opposition at the Astana talks, said the rebels support a political solution based on UN auspices, while demanding the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Alloush added, however, that the Syrian opposition would not engage in any talks with Iran and would not accept any statement by Tehran on Syria’s future. He said that he had given a proposal to Russia on the ceasefire, and expects an answer within a week.

 ‘Probably first time armed groups sat in the same room with govt since Syria conflict began’ – Mistura on Astana process

Staffan de Mistura, the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria, told reporters that the UN commends Russia, Iran and Turkey for deciding to establish a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire in Syria.
He underlined the uniqueness of the talks, saying that it was “probably the first time” since the start of the civil war that Syrian armed opposition groups had sat in the same room as the government.

In an interview with RT, de Mistura praised the Astana talks. He called them “something that has not happened before” where “both the armed groups’ representatives and the Syrian government” met in a room together with delegations from Iran, Russia, and Turkey, as well as the US ambassador, representing the new administration, and the United Nations.

“It has required political courage from them to sit in the same room and listen to their respective demands,” he said.

The envoy said he hopes that the political process will continue in Geneva. The only way for peace to come to Syria is through a political solution brought about through intra-Syrian negotiations under the aegis of the UN, he concluded.

“We cannot allow another ceasefire to dissolve because of a lack of a political process. Now is the time for the international community in all its dimensions to come together and support one integrated political negotiating process, as provided for in [UN Security Council Resolution] SCR 2254.”

Russian delegation says draft of new Syria constitution handed to armed opposition

Russia’s delegation handed a draft Syrian constitution prepared by Russian legal experts to the Syrian armed opposition groups’ representatives, to speed up the process of resolving the conflict, Lavrentiev told reporters.

He also said that the armed opposition delegation expressed its readiness to work on the new constitution.

“It would be only correct to comprise a constitution commission that would consist of the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition [to work on the document],” Lavrentiev said. He added, however, that this goal had not yet been achieved.

The Russian representative also said that the armed opposition delegation had agreed to take part in the upcoming negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

Looking back at the talks that have just concluded in Astana, Lavrentiev said that the opposition delegates were “reserved” when the Russian delegation started working with them, but that they later became “more open” as they understood Moscow “is not an enemy for them,” and that cooperation with Russia could actually contribute to the peace process in Syria.

He also described the meeting in Astana as “successful” and said that it had allowed the establishment of direct contact between the government and opposition delegations for the first time, although they still refused to engage in direct talks due to a high level of mistrust.

There is a “growing number of contacts between the governmental forces and the opposition groups on the ground” that are primarily aimed at resolving local humanitarian issues and that could possibly help to build trust in the future, he added.

The Astana talks are not a substitute for the Geneva process, he went on, but are an addition to it as the negotiations in the Kazakh capital focus more on the peace process and the ceasefire issue rather than the political process.

Lavrentiev said that the number of countries acting as guarantors of the ceasefire in Syria could be extended in the future. He stressed, however, that they should “have some real influence on armed groups” on the ground, expressing doubt that the US could be an effective guarantor.

The Russian delegation head welcomed US participation in the Syrian peace process and particularly noted that President Donald Trump’s words “give us much hope” concerning the fight against terrorist groups in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russian military experts in Astana have begun work on separating armed opposition groups from terrorist organizations. They were particularly able to map the boundary lines between areas held by the opposition and regions occupied by IS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, according to Lavrentiev.