The importance of dialogue on Syria, however difficult

Ending conflicts is always difficult, pain-staking work. Shattered trust has to be slowly restored before any progress can be made. Space must be allowed for grievances to be aired and overcome. Small building blocks have to be put in place on which the larger platform for peace can be securely laid. Guarantors to ensure the agreement reached will not be breached are often required.

The more savage the conflict and the more parties involved, of course, the greater the challenge. So there should be no surprise that progress towards a deal to end the fighting in Syria has been so hard. It is not just the ferocity of the civil war and its impact on millions of people which make any resolution so difficult. There are also many different groups with different objectives involved in the fighting – who, in turn, are receiving moral and physical support from outside the country’s borders.

Syria’s nightmare is made much worse because of the involvement in the civil war of extreme terrorist groups. The danger their ambitions cause regionally and globally have added to the urgency to finding a new future for Syria that will allow everyone to work together to counter this threat.

Finding a lasting solution to such a devastating, long-running and complex conflict is going to take time, patience and a huge amount of effort. It will need negotiations to take place at different levels to help overcome both practical difficulties as well as to shape a wider framework for the country’s future.

It is against this difficult background that the progress being made in continuing talks in Astana on Syria should be judged. Just the fact that the initial talks last month were the first involving the Syrian Government and armed opposition was an encouraging sign. We saw, too, tangible results with Russia, Iran and Turkey – with the support of the United Nations – agreeing mechanisms to monitor, maintain and strengthen the desperately-needed ceasefire.

Over the last few days, we have seen high-level teams from the three guarantor countries meet in Astana to try to find solutions to the inevitable flash-points and problems that have emerged. They have also worked to find how humanitarian relief can more quickly and securely reach the millions who need it. The involvement of Jordan, which has provided a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and is a major voice for moderation and peace in the region, is another important move in the right direction.

The hope is that this progress and the follow-up meeting in Astana of the so called joint operational group scheduled for Feb. 15-16 will create the conditions for the launch of the next round of the full Geneva peace talks. These must be held under the auspices of the UN and must involve a wider range of countries.

There is, of course, a long way to go. No one should be under any illusions of just how difficult it will be to reach a lasting, comprehensive agreement. There are many, many obstacles to be overcome before we see a stable and peaceful future for Syria in which all its people can share – a future which requires the threat from violent extremism to be extinguished. But thanks to what has come to be termed as the Astana process, hope is increasing that this might be possible.

This progress has earned praise for Kazakhstan from commentators. The Times of London went so far as to say that Astana has now “taken an unlikely new role at the centre of a new world order.”  But this role is not a surprise to Kazakhstan’s international partners. It is the product of our country’s long-standing commitment to dialogue and peace and the good relations we have forged across the international community.

This has already seen Kazakhstan’s mediation help reduce the intensity of the conflict in Ukraine as well as defuse tensions between Russia and Turkey – an essential precondition for finding a peaceful future for Syria. It was a powerful reason, too, for the country’s historic election to the UN Security Council. It is why, despite the challenges ahead and the inevitable setbacks, Kazakhstan will need to continue striving for peace and working to heal divisions in Syria and throughout the world. It is a role that has never been more valuable.

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