New round of Astana talks to focus on Idlib, constitution, detainees

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published 27.11.2018 23:42
Updated 28.11.2018 00:49

Senior officials from Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are meeting today to hold the next round of the Astana peace talks in the Kazakh capital as part of efforts to find a permanent political solution to the seven-year Syrian civil war.

Syria's truce guarantors are meeting again after a six-month hiatus to discuss the cease-fire in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, efforts to establish a constitutional committee tasked with writing the new Syrian constitution and the release of detainees. Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal will represent Turkey alongside Russia's special envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentyev and Iran's Arab and African Affairs Assistant Foreign Minister Hussein Gabri.

Today's talks are closed to the press but the main session of the meeting to be held tomorrow will be open to the media in which all sides, including the Bashar Assad regime and the Syrian military opposition, will attend.

For the main Syrian opposition group, the former premier of the Syrian interim government Ahmed Tuma is participating in the two days talks. On behalf of the regime, the regime's permanent representative to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, is also attending the meetings.

Meanwhile, officials from the U.N. and Jordan were also invited as observers to the meeting. The United States did not send an official to the last two meetings though it did for the 11th round. U.S. envoy to Syria James Jeffrey said that the U.S. will not participate in consultations over Syria in Astana.

Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, is attending the meeting upon invitation, according to a statement released from the U.N. office in Geneva.

It is indicated in the statement that de Mistura accepted the invitation in accordance with the Geneva Process and U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254. During the talks, de Mistura will exert efforts to reach a concrete result for establishing a constitutional committee in Syria.

The Astana talks, which aim to find a political solution for the ongoing war in Syria, were initiated in the Kazakh capital in January 2017. Nine rounds of talks have been held in Astana while 10 of these talks have been held in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi in July 2018. The final declaration of the last summit highlighted the establishment of a constitutional committee for Syria.

Accordingly, the Syrian Negotiation Commission had submitted a list of 50 candidates to represent the Syrian opposition in the constitutional committee to de Mistura. Following the meeting in Sochi, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib of 15 to 20 square kilometers. The deal envisages for the military opposition and anti-regime forces in Idlib to complete the process of pulling heavy weapons from the front line, while it also provides joint monitoring by the Turkish and Russian armed forces. Regarding the consensus, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced last month that the Syrian opposition and other anti-regime groups had completed the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the demilitarized zone.

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