Syrian peace talks to resume in Kazakh capital late August
Iran, Russia and Turkey have agreed to resume the next round of Syrian peace talks in Astana in late August following their decision to continue discussions on creating four de-escalation zones in Syria.
“[It has been] decided to hold the next high-level international meeting on Syria in Astana in the last week of August 2017,” the three mediators of the peace talks said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
Prior to the next round, the joint working group of the three countries will meet in Iran on August 1-2 to continue delineation of de-escalation zones, the communique added.
The statement further underlined the need for efforts to secure the stability and territorial integrity of Syria, noting that there can be no military solution to the crisis.
Delegations from Russia, Iran and Turkey as well as the Syrian sides and the United Nations teams held the fifth round of Syrian peace talks in Astana on July 4-5. Jordan and the United States also participated as observers.
During the previous round of the talks in May, the participants agreed to create the four de-escalation zones.
Russia and Iran, which support the Syrian government, and Turkey, which backs anti-Damascus militant groups, seek to find a mechanism to delineate the zones by the end of August.
More than 2.5 million people are believed to be living in the general area of the four zones which span the southern provinces of Dara’a, Quneitra and Sweida.
The rest of the areas cover the northwestern province of Idlib, parts of the central province of Homs, and the militant-controlled Eastern Ghouta Province near Damascus.
“During these consultations, the Turkish side said it needed more time in order … to make an appropriate decision,” top Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said at the end of the Astana talks.
Lavrentyev noted that the details with regard to the southern de-escalation zone needed to be agreed with the United States and Jordan, which support the militants in the area.
If the agreement on the de-escalation zones is finalized, Russia, Iran and Turkey will be able to immediately deploy forces on the borders of those zones within weeks, the Russian diplomat noted.
Bashar al-Ja’afari, the head of the Syrian government’s delegation, slammed Turkey’s positions during the talks, which he said hindered an agreement on the details of the safe zones.
“The Turkish delegation objected to the adoption of any documents related to the implementation of mechanisms of the agreement on the de-escalation zones,” he said.
Turkey’s representatives made no comments to the media after the talks.
After the end of the fifth round of Astana meetings, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura described the progress at the talks as “simple” but “important” and noted that the results achieved in this round of negotiations will be used during the upcoming Geneva talks on Syrian crisis.
US ready for joint steps with Russia
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed Washington’s preparedness to take several joint steps with Moscow over the Syrian issue and called on all parties fighting Daesh Takfiri terrorists to avoid conflict with one another.
“The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on the ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance,” Tillerson said in a statement.
“If our two countries work together to establish stability on the ground, it will lay a foundation for progress on the settlement of Syria’s political future,” the statement said without any direct mentioning of the Astana talks.
Tillerson lauded US-Russia cooperation in establishing de-confliction zones in Syria, saying the joint efforts show “that our two nations are capable of further progress.”
Syria has been grappling with foreign-backed militancy since 2011. Over the past few months, Syrian forces have made sweeping gains against Takfiri elements, who have lately increased their acts of violence across the country following a series of defeats on the ground.