Turkey, Russia and Iran, the three guarantors of the Astana peace process, met Thursday in the 13th meeting held in Nur Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, for technical talks before the trilateral Astana meeting, which will be held in Istanbul this month. Headed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Asgar Hacı and Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkey Sedat Önal, the latest situation in the de-escalation zone in Idlib, developments in northeastern Syria, the returning of refugees, humanitarian conditions and reconstruction of Syria were among the topics in meetings yesterday.
Trio to meet in Turkey this month to find permanent solution
The Astana meeting, initiated by Turkey, Iran and Russia to bring warring sides together and find a permanent solution for the eight-year Syrian civil war, will be held this month in Istanbul with the main agenda items concerning the constitutional process, political transition and security. With three countries leaders participating, the meeting will mainly concern Idlib and other parts of Syria, the general security situation, transition processes, the constitutional commission and resettlement. While the first meeting of the Astana process was in Turkey in January 2017 to facilitate U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, officials from the three countries most recently met in the newly renamed Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan yesterday in the 13th round. Previously during the G20 summit, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that in the sideline meetings, it was decided with the relevant world leaders would hold the next Astana summit in Turkey.
The planned constitutional committee, including representatives from the opposition, the regime and guarantor countries, will be tasked with writing and establishing 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 objections from the Bashar Assad regime since participants at a Russia-hosted conference in January agreed to establish it.
The committee will consist of 150 members, including a 50-member delegation from the regime and a 50-member delegation from the opposition. The Syrian regime has been objecting to 50 members of the committee representing civil society, experts, independents, tribal leaders and women.
During the previous rounds of Astana talks, the three countries agreed on several topics and implemented them. They decided to strengthen the mechanism established to ensure monitoring of the implementation of the ceasefire in Syria and to create tension zones where the conflict is most intense between the opposition and regime forces. Also, with a project prepared by a working
group formed under the Astana trio and the U.N. to investigate the fate of missing people and the release of those who have been detained, several detainee swap deals have been carried out. In October 2018, the leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany came together in a quadruple summit in Istanbul, hoping to lay the groundwork for an eventual peace in a country devastated by years of war.
In a final statement, leaders rejected separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, also highlighting the need to create conditions throughout the country for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their original places of residence in Syria and that the returnees need security from armed conflict, political persecution or arbitrary arrests.
Syrian regime, opposition exchange prisoners in line with Astana process
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and the opposition on Wednesday mutually released prisoners in line with provisions in the Astana peace process. The Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry said several people detained by the regime and opposition were simultaneously released. "Several persons detained by opposition groups and the regime were mutually and simultaneously released on July 31 in the Abu al-Zindeen district, south of al-Bab, controlled by the opposition," the ministry said in a written statement. The statement further said the release of the detainees was an outcome of the fourth project of the working group, set up under the Astana process, on the release of detainees, abductees and handing over the bodies of the deceased, in addition to identification of missing persons. The ministry noted that the working group will continue its efforts and activities.