Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed upon an agenda to help settle the Syrian crisis earlier in a trilateral meeting held in Moscow on December 20 and the Resolution 2336 was adopted by UNSC on Dec. 31 to support an inclusive ceasefire in Syria and the political process. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan had discussed earlier, on December 17, the possibility of holding talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana between the Syrian government and opposition groups with Russia, Iran and Turkey as potential mediators. Kazakh President Nazarbayev supported this initiative, expressing readiness to provide a platform for the talks in the Kazakh capital.
The last round of such talks was held in Geneva on April 13-27, bearing no fruit as the Riyadh-formed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) opposition group walked out of the negotiations. Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, said in December 2016 that the United Nations plans to resume the talks on February 8, 2017. The Astana peace talks, Russia has underlined, is just a complementary platform to Geneva meetings and does not seek rivalry.
Astana talks marks a great step toward the long-desired political solution to the Syrian conflict, as it was able to bring the armed opposition groups to the negotiation table for the first time since the onset of peace meetings. The meeting has been organized to consolidate the ceasefire and engage of the armed opposition in the Syrian political process"I believe that one obstacle to the talks was the fact that the UN only sent invitations to members of the political opposition, the overwhelming majority of whom were emigrants living in Europe, the Middle East or other countries but not in Syria, and to some opposition members in Syria… These talks were not attended by those who really determine the situation on the ground, that is, armed groups or armed opposition," Lavrov has emphasized. The participation of armed opposition would contribute to the main objective of Astana talks, which is an inclusive and lasting ceasefire. A lasting ceasefire would establish the stability and peace largely needed for political talks. Accordingly, with a minor US participation in ambassador level and no participation by Arab states of the region, the nature of the Astana talks seems different providing space for a real intra-Syrian talks. Iran and Russia, on the hand, are basically regarded as close allies of Syria and Turkey, although in a concerning situation, has been flexible and showed eager to help the process during recent months.
Yet the condition is still very complicated and makes any prediction very difficult. First of all the talks are generally a platform for a dialogue between Syria’s armed opposition groups and the government of Damascus who have definitely very less in common to negotiate on. The opposition group itself includes different representatives from different groups with different approaches labeled by US as moderates, a division not accepted by Syrian government.
Another notable issue is the stance of US, which has just recently welcomed its new president, Donald Trump. “The rise of ISIS is the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton; the Obama-Clinton foreign policy has unleashed ISIS, destabilized the Middle East,” Trump has said in his speech against the terrorism. Trump also has noted the wrong approach US has taken toward the conflict in Middle East that has paved the way for rise of terrorism “our current strategy of nation-building and regime change is a proven failure. We have created the vacuums that allow terrorists to grow and thrive.” He had also expressed readiness to cooperate with Russia on the issue who has the leading role in fight against the terrorists in Syria. Trump sounds promising on the issue of fight against terrorism however it would be very difficult to believe the positive role US is claiming to play in the Middle East. The interests of US and its great allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israeli regime, lie directly at the sectarian conflict currently enflaming the tensions in countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
Turkey also is a concern. The country has long been an adversary to the Syrian government collecting efforts to topple down the legitimate Syrian President Assad. Ankara has also been one of the key supporters of the terrorists in Syria by whether letting the flow of human resources through its borders or funding and arming them. The enthusiasm Turkey shows in cooperation with Russia and Iran on the Syrian issue, although understandable regarding the insecurity the country is experiencing, raises doubts. Turkey’s interests got in a contradictory direction with US’ when the latter refused to submit Fetullah Gulen, founder of the Gullen movement, after the failed coup in Turkey. Erdogan’s foreign policy then shifted positively toward Russia, Syria and Iran and set the ground for a trilateral cooperation on the Syrian conflict. Other major contrast of Ankara and Washington is the issue of Kurds to whom Turkey looks at as terrorists and fights against while US supports them entirely in the region in hope of setting up an independent Kurdish state. Nonetheless, Turkey has vowed not to let terrorist groups violate the reached ceasefire agreement on December and to establish security at its borders with Syria.
Astana round of talks, an initiative by Syrian allies, is a result of achievements reached in the battle field. A relatively stable ceasefire was established after the trilateral meeting of Iran, Russia and Turkey in Moscow on December, successfull to the moment despite all previous ceasefire agreements, and the armed opposition groups are at the moment at the negotiation table with Syrian government in Astana at the presence of mediators like De Mistura, Iran, Russia and Turkey. Despite all pessimism, what is obvious is that Astana peace talks is an opportunity and such an opportunity should be optimized by Syria and its allies to urge all involved parties to stay committed to their obligations, particularly Turkey who has accepted to manage the issue on the opposition side due its influence among them. The opportunity should be used as a means to stress the political process and the road map towards it requiring all parties to the conflict to hold the ceasefire strictly, to put emphasis on legitimacy of fight against terrorists regardless of their labels, Syria’s territorial integrity, and the need to refrain from interfering in the final decision to be agreed upon by Syrian nation and government.
Parnaz Talebi has done her MA in North American Studies in University of Tehran.