Upcoming Astana meeting to be held next month, Russian FM says

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published 29.01.2019 00:08

The next meeting of the Astana talks, which were initiated by Turkey, Russia and Iran to find a political solution to the seven-year civil war in Syria, will be organized in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi in February.

Speaking in a press briefing, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday that all the issues regarding the Syrian settlement are important, and they will be discussed at two meetings scheduled for February at the 12th meeting of guarantor countries in the Astana format and the Russia-Turkey-Iran presidential summit in Sochi.

The new U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir O. Pedersen, was also expected to visit Turkey to meet Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and other Turkish officials for two days. The Syrian Constitutional Committee that is planned to be carved out as a part of the political solution will be the top item on the agenda in the meetings.

The first meeting of the Astana process was held Turkey in January 2017 with an aim to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to facilitate U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. Up to today, 11 rounds of talks have been held, leading to the establishment of the four de-escalation zones in the northwestern province of Idlib, north of the central city of Homs, the Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus and in the southern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra.

The partial cease-fire, however, was short-lived as regime forces backed by Russia and Iran recaptured three of the areas through heavy bombardments, leaving Idlib as the last stronghold of the opposition. An offensive of the regime in Idlib was prevented by Turkish and Russian intervention. On Sept. 17, 2018, both countries agreed to implement a demilitarized zone between the opposition forces and the regime forces warding off a possible humanitarian disaster.

The Astana talks also support the establishment of the U.N.-backed constitutional committee in Syria as a way to find a political solution. The planned constitutional committee will be tasked to carve out a Syria's post-war constitution, which is seen as a stepping stone to elections in the war-torn country. The formation of the committee has been stalled for some time now due to the objections from the Bashar Assad regime since participants at a Russia-hosted conference in January 2018 agreed to establish it.

The committee is expected to have 150 members, a 50-member delegation from the regime and a 50-member delegation from the opposition. However, little progress has been made since participants at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress agreed to form the committee on Jan. 30, 2018. The Syrian regime has been objecting to 50 members of the committee representing civil society, experts, independents, tribal leaders and women.

Russian, Turkish armies to work together for Idlib

In addition to efforts for a political solution, Ankara and Moscow have also been developing military cooperation to contribute to the stability of the region.

Lavrov said the militaries of Russia and Turkey are working together on possible ways to overcome the situation in Idlib, adding that Moscow is ready to continue to take actions that are foreseen by the Russian-Turkish deal for Idlib, including the establishment of a demilitarized zone to eliminate the terrorist threat there.

He also underlined that the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border requires immediate steps to prevent a vacuum in the territory after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"We believe it is possible for Turkey and Syria to use the agreement made between them, known as the Adana agreement of 1998, for this purpose," he said.

The agreement signed between Ankara and Damascus in 1998 said Turkey would be able to enter Syrian territory when it faces threats.

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