Sixth international meeting on Syria begins in Kazakhstan’s Astana

TASS– The sixth international conference on Syria opens in Kazakhstan’s capital city Astana on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the ceasefire guarantor nations – Russia, Iran and Turkey, held preliminary meetings in that city.

The first day of the forum will be dedicated to bilateral consultations and a final plenary meeting is scheduled for September 15.

The Russian delegation to the talks is led by Russian president’s Syrian settlement envoy Alexander Lavrentyev. The Iranian delegation in led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Ansari, and the Turkish delegation is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal.

The UN Secretary General’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry’s special advisor for political issues Nawaf Uasfi Tel, and US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Affairs, David Satterfield will be acting as observers at the consultations.

Bashar Ja’afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations is heading the Syrian government delegation and the chief of staff of the Syrian Free Army, Ahmed Berri will represent the armed opposition.

Task number one at the talks is to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib, to reach agreement on control forces and boundaries of this zone. According to preliminary data, the negotiating parties have the political will and are ready to reach a final agreement. They are to square the terms for control force presence, outline its mandate, including as concerns the right to use weapons in response of ceasefire violations in the three previously agreed de-escalation zones, namely in Eastern Ghouta, Homs and southwestern Syria (the provinces of Daraa, al-Quneitra and al-Suwayda).

Currently, a Russian military police force is tasked to ensure security along the perimeter of these three zones. However a source told TASS that security control in the Idlib zone could be exercised by the three guarantor countries. “The memorandum of May 4 provides for participation of all the three guarantor countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran – in controlling the de-escalation zones’ boundaries,” the source said. “Of special attention is the issue of presence of forces along the perimeter of the fourth zone in Idlib.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on September 12 that the Russia side is positive about the talks.

The Astana meeting is expected to pass provisions on a de-escalation zones coordination center. The joint monitoring center for the southern Syrian de-escalation zone started its activities in Amman on August 23. The center is tasked to control the ceasefire in the southern de-escalation zone, as well as to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to the area and the provision of medical and other assistance to local residents.

The sides are also discussing draft documents on exchange of detained persons, on demining historical heritage sites.

Moscow calls on humanitarian agencies not to drag on humanitarian deliveries to Syria.

According to the Russian top diplomat, the Astana process complements the Geneva format in terms of the prospects for establishing a dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition. “A very important element of this concept of de-escalation zones and the program to set them up is establishing dialogue through the national reconciliation committees,” Lavrov said in Jeddah on September 10. “Within these zones, these is interest in setting up such committees to launch the dialogue with the government. That will be a very important addition to the efforts made in Geneva to ensure the UN-backed direct dialogue at the negotiating table.”

Moreover, efforts are currently being taken to unify the Syrian opposition, the so-called Riyadh, Moscow and Cairo platforms, into a single delegation to hold direct talks with official Damascus.