Diplomats from various countries, including Iran, the United States, and the UK, are going to open a round of multilateral talks in Switzerland aimed at finding a solution to end the Syrian conflict.
The high-level negotiations will start in the city of Lausanne on Saturday with US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as well as top diplomats from regional and trans-regional countries, namely Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran departed Tehran for the Swiss city on Saturday morning to attend the talks. Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Zarif’s deputy for Arab and African Affairs, will be accompanying him.
There are varying degrees of hope as to whether the talks will be successful in ending the violence in Syria, even if temporarily.
Iran and Russia support the elected Syrian government, while the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey back the militants fighting the state.
‘Are they prepared?’
Vitaly Churkin, who is Russia’s ambassador the United Nations (UN) and the Security Council’s current president, said on Friday that Lavrov and Kerry will try to get Saudi Arabia and Turkey to use their influence with militant groups fighting against the legitimate government in Syria for a fresh truce.
Churkin said Lavrov and his US counterpart decided “to revisit” the format of some 20 countries in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to a small group of countries as it was difficult to reach consensus on specific topics.
“I think it will be very important to see: are they prepared to really work for a cessation of hostilities? If this time they are more responsible about it, then progress can be made,” Churkin commented.
The Russian diplomat further expressed concern at reports “that those so-called moderate groups are making new arrangements” with Takfiri Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front) terrorist group. By “moderate” groups, he was referring to the militant outfits that the US likes to brand as such but that are linked to terrorist groups nevertheless.
“So this is one of the major sticking points, and hopefully at this meeting in Lausanne, those countries that have an influence will take a stronger stand so that those groups, in fact, could distance from Nusra,” Churkin said.
Earlier on Friday, Lavrov had downplayed the possibility for the Lausanne talks to produce results.
Lavrov also insisted that Russia has no intention to introduce fresh initiatives during the meeting.
The Russian foreign minister’s pessimism about the Lausanne talks were reflected — although with lesser intensity — by an unnamed French diplomatic source, who said, “When you see the results from the previous efforts, quite frankly, I’m a bit skeptical about the next ones.”
A senior US official, though, said the meeting is designed to come up with ideas meant to end the Syrian conflict, not an immediate breakthrough.
“I think we need to see what happens in the room to determine whether this is the beginning of a new process that continues in this format or not,” he said.
A US-Russian brokered ceasefire for Syria expired on September 19 after being in effect for only a week.
The Damascus government refused to extend the truce after US-led airstrikes targeted a Syrian military base in the eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr in violation of the agreement, leaving over 80 soldiers dead and some 100 others wounded. The US said the airstrike had been carried out by mistake. Damascus said it believed otherwise.
Russia has criticized the US for not doing enough to rein in the anti-Damascus militants in Syria to protect the truce, saying continued breaches of the ceasefire by militants made it “senseless” for Syrian authorities to stand committed to the agreement.