Latest Syrian peace talks in Astana focus on humanitarian issues

ASTANA – The Oct. 29-30 latest round of Syrian peace talks in Astana, the seventh in what is known as the Astana Process meant to supplement UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva, focused on humanitarian issues and resulted in another joint statement by the three guarantor states of the process – Russia, Turkey and Iran.

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Participants discussed adherence to de-escalation zones agreed-upon in previous Astana Process talks as well as humanitarian issues, primarily the issues of exchange of detainees, prisoners of war and missing persons.

Representatives of the Syrian government and the Syrian armed opposition, delegations from Iran, Russia and Turkey attended closed-door negotiations. U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield and a delegation from Jordan and the United Nations (UN) also attended.

The UN delegation was led by Milos Strugar, an associate of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who attended a couple of previous rounds.

During the talks, head of the Syrian government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari called upon the guarantor states to abide by previous agreements, including de-escalation zone agreement.

In the joint statement, Iran, Russia and Turkey asserted there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict, rather the commitment to the political process guided by the UN Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) should prevail.

Concluding the two-day talks, the three guarantor states praised the contribution of the four de-escalation zones agreed-upon during the sixth round of Astana process in September.

“We emphasise the significant reduction of violence on the ground in Syria as a result of measures taken to strengthen and maintain the ceasefire regime, including launching the de-escalation areas and creating the security zones,” said Kazakh Minister for Foreign Affairs Kairat Abdrakhmanov as he read out the document.

“We hope that all the agreements reached today are fully implemented. All the items on the agenda, including the issues related to hostages, detainees, missing persons, humanitarian demining and other issues discussed during the seventh round in Astana, are of great importance for all parties,” Abdrakhmanov added on his behalf.

Focus on humanitarian issues

During the negotiations, the guarantor states stressed the need to take confidence-building measures referring to such humanitarian issues as the release of detainees, handover of bodies and finding missing persons. The parties involved in the negotiations, however, have yet to come to an agreement.

The Syrian opposition drew special attention to the issue of detainees during the talks.

“Another thing we are here for are detainees, forcibly detained people, and we have around quarter of a million people. We do not know how many of them are still alive. So this is a very important issue for every Syrian,” noted advisor to the Syrian opposition Yahya al-Aridi. Certain people impede the progress in achieving the objective, he added.

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During a press conference wrapping up the talks, the Syrian opposition criticised Iran and the Syrian government for hampering the process of adopting the document on detainees.

“We signed documents [on the release of detainees] and there was agreement approved by Russia and Turkey. We had discussions in the presence of the UN, which supported it [the document]. Who is against – Iran and regime,” said al-Aridi, stressing the opposition’s firm commitment to push the issue forward and raise it during the upcoming Geneva talks.

“All the present parties supported it. The regime does not want to resolve the issue and we do not want to put that issue aside,” he added.

Not surprisingly, the joint statement from the guarantor states emphasised “the need for the conflicting parties to take confidence‑building measures, including the release of detainees/abductees and the handover of the bodies as well as identification of missing persons, to create better conditions for political process and lasting ceasefire.”

Congress of national Syrian reconciliation in Sochi put forward by Russia

In the talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Representative for Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentiev reaffirmed his country’s initiative to organise a congress for Syrian national dialogue and reconciliation. The forum is expected to be held in Sochi due to security reasons, he added.

“We have been discussing the place for a while. We reviewed different options. We would certainly like to organise such important intra-Syrian forum in Syria itself, but with the current situation that does not allow for ensuring security, so we decided to hold it in Russia,” said Lavrentiev at a press conference.

It is not yet clear whether the congress will be held, however, as the Syrian opposition already questioned the motives behind it.

The Syrian government delegation, however, supported the initiative and expressed its firm commitment to that.

“As for national dialogue forum, it is the result of coordinated activities which continue between Russia and Iran. Given the situation at the front and decreasing activity of terrorists, it is time to hold such kind of conference and we are ready to participate. The forum will be held in Russia and we think we can trust Russia as a friendly state,” said al-Jaafari.

In their joint statement, Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed “to discuss in consistence with the UN-led Geneva process the Russian Federation’s proposal to convene a Congress of the national dialogue about which the Russian side shared information with the guarantors.”

Astana Process supplements the Geneva talks, says Nazarbayev

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met Oct. 31 with the heads of Russian, Turkish, Iranian delegations as well as a delegation of observers from the U.S., Jordan and the UN.

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The Astana Process enhances the efficiency of the Geneva talks, said Nazarbayev, emphasising the positive results of the previous rounds.

“You have solved the problem of de-escalation of military actions in several regions. You have determined further mechanisms. The humanitarian situation is improved. It is important to preserve the ceasefire regime,” noted the Kazakh President, as he addressed the delegations.

“Any kind of negotiations and dialogue is a path to the future. We all want a peaceful solution to this issue. It is impossible to fight terrorism if the efforts of all countries are not united and if there is no single coalition. We are making every effort to create the necessary conditions to continue negotiations,” Nazarbayev said.

The next Astana Process talks are expected to take place in late December.