Fourth meeting begins in Turkey-backed Astana peace process
by Yunus Paksoy
ANKARAMay 03, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Yunus Paksoy
May 03, 2017 12:00 am
The Syrian opposition and the Bashar Assad regime will come together once again in the Kazakh capital Astana today, to seek ways for a political solution in the years-long Syrian crisis.
All sides are expected to be present in Astana, which will be the fourth meeting since January.
A spokesman for the Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry, Anuar Jaynakov, said that all parties will take part in the meeting, including the chief negotiator of the High Negotiations Committee from the Syrian opposition, Mohammed Alloush.
The United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is also heading to Kazakhstan to join talks on a cease-fire in Syria.
A U.N. spokesman told reporters on Monday that the special envoy will be in Astana as an observer at the talks on Wednesday and Thursday.
The talks will be convened by the three guarantors of the cease-fire: Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said de Mistura agreed to attend at the invitation of Kazakhstan's government "in view of the urgency and importance of re-establishing a de-escalation of the situation in Syria and moving on confidence-building measures."
Dujarric added that de Mistura will hold talks with the three guarantors and others ahead of the next round of peace negotiations with the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva, which diplomats say are expected later this month.
Recently, Turkey's ambassador to Moscow Hüseyin Diriöz said that collaboration between Turkey and Russia, with regard to the Syrian issue, is proceeding in a constructive way.
The Turkish ambassador also passed on information regarding the impending meeting in Sochi, stating that the Astana diplomatic process with regard to Syria and topics pertaining to regional cooperation would be addressed.
The Astana meetings, officially called the "International Meetings on Syrian Settlement," intend to bring both the Assad regime and Syrian opposition forces together in order to work out a solution for the ongoing Syrian crisis.
Özcan Tikit, a columnist for Turkish daily Habertürk who focuses on developments in the region, said that the Astana process was a sign of goodwill that kicked off at the same time as the normalization between Ankara and the Kremlin.
"Warring sides have finally come to a point where they want a solution to the problem," Tikit said, adding that countries that are part to the warring sides should come to common terms.
The Astana peace process has come to a halt several times after the Assad regime killed hundreds of civilians in different parts of Syria over the last couple of months.
The most significant attack by the Assad regime took place in early April, with airstrikes hitting the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, where a chemical attack killed over a hundred people.
Can Acun, a researcher of Middle Eastern politics at (the Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation) SETA, said that Turkey wanted to instate a permanent cease-fire first, and then a political solution.
But, he added, "Russia could not meet expectations and supported the Assad regime after cease-fire violations."
SUPPORT FOR YPG DAMAGES PEACE PROCESS
The Turkish government's activities in Syria play a role in the process as well. Ankara launched Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria on Aug. 24, 2016 to eradicate the Daesh threat.
After the operation's conclusion was announced recently, Ankara set its sights on the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG).
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that the Turkish military could take out the YPG in Syria and Iraq overnight.
Contending that the YPG issue will have an impact on the Astana process, the Habertürk columnist Tikit said that there are two actors in Syria that shield the PKK-affiliated group.
"Therefore we should not expect a concrete outcome out of the Astana talks," he claimed, adding that the process will continue to offer a glimpse of hope.
Additionally, the SETA researcher, Acun, said that Russia's collaboration with the YPG and its actions that are aimed at protecting the group put hurdles in the way of the peace process.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said after a cabinet meeting late on Monday that Ankara could not digest the images of allies siding with terrorist groups.
U.S. Special Forces that advise and assist YPG militants are operating near the Syrian-Turkish border, the U.S. Defense Department said Friday.
Photographs circulated by pro-YPG social media accounts allegedly showed that multiple U.S. armored vehicles were deployed near the Turkish border, specifically around Tal Abyad, where intense clashes between YPG forces and the Turkish military were ongoing.