Syria Sides At Odds As Truce Talks Conclude In Astana
Russian, Turkish, and Iranian officials meeting in Kazakhstan say they have agreed to create a mechanism to monitor a fragile cease-fire in Syria.
But they failed to make progress toward a political settlement of the Middle Eastern country's devastating 6-year-old civil war.
A joint statement issued at the conclusion of the two-day talks in Astana on January 24 said Iran, Russia, and Turkey would jointly monitor the cease-fire and "ensure full compliance...and prevent any provocations and determine all modalities of the cease-fire," which was announced on December 30.
But the Syrian opposition -- which only met indirectly with Syrian government officials -- was dissatisfied with the final statement and issued its own plan for monitoring cease-fire violations.
Muhammad Allush, chief of the opposition delegation, said one of the main reservations the opposition had about the final statement was its use of the word "settlement."
"We have not come here for a settlement," Allush said. "We have come for a political solution, for talks aimed at reaching a political solution that will lead to a transition of power. This solution can be initiated through a first step, which is the establishment of a cease-fire."
But Allush said the opposition would not discuss "the mechanisms" of a political solution "before the first step is completed, and that is the real establishment of the cease-fire on the ground."
Allush said a real cease-fire should be followed by "humanitarian measures" -- and then, the opposition would be 'in support of a political solution to follow after that.
Allush also said that an alternative monitoring mechanism would help determine "the scope and degree of [truce] violations and those responsible for them."
Allush said the document had been given to Turkish, Russian, and UN officials at the talks in the Kazakh capital.
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition delegation spokesman Osama Abu Zaid -- who also is a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) armed opposition group -- said opposition figthers were "not party" to the monitoring mechanism agreement.
"It is an agreement between Turkey, Iran and Russia," Abu Zaid said. "They are sovereign countries and can conclude any agreements they wish. This is their own statement. When the statement was presented to become the final statement, we said we had a lot of reservations. Above all, that Iran is listed as a guarantor."
The Damascus representatives, for their part, said they would not hold government-level talks with Turkey or sign any document signed by a Turkish official.
Turkey has openly called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave his post in order for the conflict to be resolved.
The three countries sponsoring the Astana talks also reaffirmed their intention to continue fighting the extremist group Islamic State and Jabhat al-Sham, previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, and "to separate them from the other part of the armed opposition."
Russia has been severely criticized for its air strikes against the moderate opposition groups that are supported by Turkey and a U.S.-led coalition of countries and are fighting against Assad's government, which Russia and Iran support.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said the mechanism to monitor the cease-fire was an important development that could help the current truce to succeed where two previous cease-fires in Syria have failed.
When asked if he thought the monitoring mechanism -- which will be operating out of Astana -- would be effective, he said it was a detailed plan and that "we must give it a chance."
The final statement by Russia, Turkey, and Iran also said the three countries supported participation by the opposition in the next scheduled Syrian peace talks to be held in Geneva on February 8.
De Mistura said the UN was the "main player in regards to the political process" on resolving the Syrian civil war and that the peace process should continue in Geneva. He also praised Iran, Russia, and Turkey for coordinating the truce talks in Astana.
The Astana diplomatic initiative to end the conflict in Syria comes one month after government forces aided by Russian air strikes and Iranian militias recaptured the eastern part of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city before the war, in a major victory for Assad.
An estimated 300,000 people have been killed and millions more have been displaced since the Syrian civil war started in 2011 following a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
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