‘Turning point’: Syrian peace process delegations on de-escalation zones
The three guarantors of the peace settlement in war-torn Syria – Russia, Iran and Turkey – signed the document on the boundaries of the final de-escalation zone in Idlib in the Kazakh capital, Astana on Friday. It is the last of the four de-escalation zones, initially proposed by Moscow, to separate extremist groups, including Islamic State terrorists (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front), from the moderate opposition.
For the next six months, the forces of Russia, Iran, and Turkey will monitor Idlib Province to help maintain the ceasefire and fight terrorism, while Russia will be responsible for the de-escalation zone in the south.
“We see this as a turning point. The creation of de-escalation zones represents a turning point in people’s minds,” Russia’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reports in Astana.
“They feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that they do not have to tremble for their lives anymore.”
However, there is still much to be done to unite all the forces in the struggle with terrorism, the head of the Russian delegation said. Despite the armed Syrian opposition taking part in the peace negotiations and welcoming the Russian-Turkish-Iranian initiative, it did not give any concrete guarantees on its participation, according to Lavrentiev.
The opposition says that “until there are no developments from the Syrian government forces, there will [not be] our participation in the fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra,” the envoy explained.
“It’s regretful to hear such statements,” he said, adding that all the sides are trying to coordinate their actions, including those with the US. Washington backs the operations of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes Kurdish fighters as well as Arab militia groups on Syrian territory despite no official permission from the authorities.
“We are trying to attract as much forces and means as we can to close this issue and move to peacebuilding and restoration of Syria,” Lavrentiev said.
“We hope that we will be able to change the mind of the opposition on this issue.”
‘A test to crisis settlement parties’
The Russian-Turkish-Iranian agreement is a six-month-long exam for the peace settlement guarantors, especially for Ankara, the Syrian government’s chief negotiator, Bashar Jaafari, told an RT Arabic correspondent following the Astana talks. However, it may fail to pass the test as it has been supporting terrorists for years, Jaafari says.
The next six months, a period that was settled at the negotiations, will show if the “guarantors, and especially the Turkish side” can fulfill their commitments, “as two other countries – Russia and Iran – are fighting terrorism at the request of the Syrian government, while Turkey has been helping terrorists for years,” Jaafari stated.
He also explained that Turkey opposed having Russian-Iranian forces at the border between Idlib and Turkey, as Ankara does not want anyone to witness how Turkey is helping the terrorists and letting them move freely across the border.
“This agreement is an exam. The exam for the countries involved in the process of settlement of the Syrian crisis,” he said, adding that it will show the extent to which Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara are willing to follow the agreement.
The mechanisms of monitoring, prosecution, and punishment, as well as a monitoring center, were established in the final communique, according to the Syrian envoy.
“The whole world will observe how the agreement is being implemented,” Jaafari told RT.
“Either we read poetry at such meetings or have a serious political conversation and meet political commitments.”
‘Devil in the details’
The difficulties connected with the latest negotiations and the establishment of the last de-escalation zone were also voiced by the Iranians.
“As the famous Arab proverb says, ‘the devil is in the details,’” the head of the Iranian delegation at the Astana talks, Hossein Ansari, told RT.
“During the discussion and working out of the details we have faced some challenges, especially regarding de-escalation zone in Idlib,” Ansari said.
The Iranian envoy also confirmed that Moscow asked to mention “the southern zone” in the final document.
“Russia, as a guarantor state which is a participant of the agreement on the southern zone, is responsible [for it],” Ansari stated.
The negotiations in Astana also influence the parallel Geneva peace process, aimed at providing ground for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition under the auspices of the United Nations.
“First of all, in Geneva we will… continue talking and not only talking, but to take actions on the humanitarian aspect – which is a natural consequence of this coalition. The more of this coalition, the more of this humanitarian access,” UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura told RT.