Article by Martin Berger
On Monday, the capital of Kazakhstan hosted a new round of Syrian peace talks initiated by Russia. In sharp contrast to the meetings that were organized by the United Nations in Geneva, in Astana, it was not about how to resolve the Syrian conflict as a whole, but about the preservation of the frail ceasefire in Syria that has been in effect for almost a month. Such political topics as a possible interim government, new elections or the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been deemed too premature to discuss. A truly important point regarding the negotiations in Astana was the establishment of a tripartite monitoring mechanism, that would allow Russia, Iran and Turkey to guarantee the upholding of the current truce in the Syrian Arab Republic.
In a spite of a list of difficulties that the negotiators had to face and often divergent positions of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict, the meeting in Astana has marked a new balance of power in Syria, illustrating the dominant role that Russia is playing in the region these days, along with the failure of US designs due to short sighted policies pursued by the Obama administration. These facts are recognized and partially admitted by both the German Die Welt and the British Guardian, along with a number of other media sources.
It must be clear to anyone at this stage that Russia and Turkey together with Iran are pursuing the same goals, therefore they are sincere in their desire to find a solution to the bitter conflict in Syria. In turn, the US had been occupying a waiting position on the negotiations, which resulted in Washington being dropped out of the discussion altogether.
Syrian rebel factions that have taken a place at the negotiating table in Astana were determined to negotiate aggressively, while being convinced that they’ve got an upper hand on the field of battle. But as a matter of fact, they do not, since the Syrian army’s latest advances nationwide. The last major pillar of militant power in northern Syria is the province of Idlib, where Fattah al-Sham still plays a noticeable role. Therefore, anyone who fails to distance themselves from this group and sign an agreement with Russia within a short time frame will perish together with them and ISIS.
While the task of holding formal direct talks between Damascus and the opposition on the prospects of conflict settlement in the Arab Republic hasn’t been achieved, the negotiations themselves may be regarded as a major success. And, although the degree of hostility was high, the parties still managed to demonstrate a rational approach. Both the opposition groups and Damascus have displayed full understanding of the situation in the country and the initial distrust shown by the Syrian armed opposition vanished quickly. The rebels and the government delegations in Astana were headed by the same people that chaired the meeting in Geneva in February 2016: Mohammed Alloush of Jaish al-Islam and Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari. However, then, they refused to sit in the same room and the negotiations were conducted indirectly, but now the two camps met face-to-face at the negotiation table. And that’s a major breakthrough.
At this point everyone understands that the bloodshed in Syria has brought nothing but hardship and destruction, and that the only solution to the Syrian crisis can be found through negotiations. In organizing and conducting the meetings in Astana, Russia, Turkey and Iran come together, despite the difference of approaches that they have used toward the crisis. Therefore, Astana marks the beginning of a settlement of the Syrian crisis. The format of negotiations and accomplishments of the talks reveal the role and influence Russia, Iran and Turkey now play in the region.
Russia has handed a draft of the new Syrian constitution that it prepared to the representatives of opposition forces, thus demonstrating its desire to accelerate the peace talks without interfering in the internal affairs of the country.
Following the talks, it was announced that the opposition groups based in Cairo and Riyadh were invited to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 27. The meeting will include the representatives of an opposition group that is based in Moscow.
While everyone recognizes that peace talks in Astana can hardly be called the primary tool for conflict resolution, there’s little doubt that they will have a positive impact on the upcoming meeting in Geneva.
Further viewing: Combating Al-Qaeda in Syria: A Strategy for the Next President. Steamed liveon the 12/1/2017