Situation in De-escalation Zones in Syria to Be Discussed in Astana

The ninth round of talks on Syria is kicking off in the capital of Kazakhstan on Monday, TASS reports. High-ranking representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey, the countries acting as guarantors of the Syrian ceasefire, will discuss the situation in four de-escalation zones (Eastern Ghouta, the area north of Homs, Idlib and southern Syria) from the perspective of consolidating the ceasefire along with humanitarian issues and prospects for a political settlement, specifically, the resumption of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.

“The parties plan to discuss the current situation in Syria, including in the de-escalation zones, humanitarian issues and confidence-building measures and coordinate further steps to facilitate the process of resolving the crisis in that Arab country,” Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry noted.

The Russian delegation is led by Special Presidential Envoy for the Syrian Settlement Alexander Lavrentiev, the Iranian – by Senior Assistant to Iran’s Foreign Minister for Special Political Affairs Hossein Jaberi Ansari and the Turkish – by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Sedat Onal.

The Syrian parties will be represented by the government delegation led by Syrian Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar Jaafari and the armed opposition. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the delegation of Jordan will take part in the meeting as observers.

On May 14, the parties will hold expert consultations, while the plenary meeting is scheduled to be held on May 15. The second meeting of the working group to release detainees and hostages in Syria is expected to be held on the sidelines of the event.

The two-day talks are the first time the three foreign powers most deeply involved in Syria’s seven-year war have met together since Iran and Israel became embroiled in a spat over reported cross-border military strikes last week, Daily Star adds. It is also the first meeting of the three sides since U.S. President Donald Trump announced Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this month in a move further complicating the regional picture.

The latest negotiations in Kazakhstan are set to discuss “further steps to advance the process of resolving the crisis” in Syria, according to a Kazakh foreign ministry statement. The multi-sided conflict that has killed more than 350,000 people took a new turn last week after Israel and Iran became embroiled in a dispute over reported cross-border strikes.

Israel claims it struck dozens of Iranian targets inside Syria Thursday in response to a salvo of rockets fired by Iranian forces into the occupied Golan Heights. The flare-up between the pair may feature in talks between Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow Monday. But the main focus of the Moscow talks will be the Iran nuclear deal Washington walked out of earlier this month, triggering broad international condemnation and fears of fresh conflicts in the region. Zarif has already visited Beijing and will head to Brussels after Moscow as part of a bid to salvage the deal.

According to Azer News, The United States will not participate in the ninth round of talks on Syria, which kicked off in Astana on May 14, RIA Novosti reported quoting the American embassy.

“The U.S. will not participate in any official status in the Syrian talks, which are held on May 14-15 in Astana,” the embassy said.

Russia’s Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, commenting on the situation, noted that Russia hopes for U.S. participation in the ninth round of talks on Syria.

“We hope that common sense exists and they [American side] will take part in our meeting because if they made such a decision, then this is sad enough, and indicates that they are trying to choose their own way. Why to isolate themselves from the political process?,” he told reporters.

Since negotiations on Syria in Astana began at the beginning of last year, they have mostly focused on attempts to keep Syrian regime forces and their rebel opponents at arm’s length. But any limited achievements in reducing government-rebel hostilities were put into reverse gear in February when regime forces allied with Moscow and Tehran began a devastating assault on Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that was under rebel control at the time.