Astana Process: Building A Platform for Peace In Syria

International_Meeting_on_Syrian_Settlement_in_Astana

By John Klein

May 13, 2017

 

The Astana Peace Process members met again on May 3rd and 4th in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan.

“Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum on May 4th backing the establishment of safe zones in Syria. . .  Russia and Iran, which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which backs various rebel groups attempting to overthrow him, have come together to create areas of de-escalation designed to protect civilians from ongoing violence between various factions since 2011.

The three international powers oversee the Astana Peace Process between the Syrian government and the opposition and “are attempting to seek a diplomatic solution to the six year conflict,” according to Newsweek Magazine.

The Astana Peace Process will continue meeting again this summer.  “The Astana Peace Process was reportedly still on with Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Addrakmanov saying the next talks would be held in July.”

“Most of the delineated cease-fire areas are expected to be agreed to by June 4th, along with plans to deliver humanitarian aid and ensure the safe return of civilians who fled.”

The United Nations’ Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, hailed the announcement made in Astana as a ‘step in the right direction’ toward a broader truce,” according to an article in The Washington Post.

“In Astana, where the three international powers are overseeing peace talks, the announcement caused a ruckus in the rebel delegation, with one top commander shouting, ‘See you on the battlefield!’… The U.S. State Department, noting that it was ‘not a direct participant in the talks, although it sent an official to observe, said it supported ‘any effort to de-escalate the violence in Syria’, ensure humanitarian aid and promote a political resolution to the conflict.”  However, the State Department spokesperson went on to state, “We continue to have concerns’ about the agreement, ‘including the involvement of Iran as a so-called guarantor,’” comments the Washington Post article on the May 4th conclusion of the fourth round of the Astana Peace Process.

“The most important part of the Astana Process agenda is the establishment of a ceasefire in Syria.  It is crucial and was discussed within previous rounds of the process in January, February and March (all also held in Astana).  It should be noted that negotiations in Astana complement and serve as pre-talks for the wider Geneva process,” states the deputy director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies Sazat Kushkembayev.

“With all major countries with a military stake in the conflict-Iran, Russia, Syria, Turkey and the United States – now apparently endorsing the creation of safe zones, the proposal marks a rare chance at a breakthrough.  In effect the zones would freeze the conflict in the four areas, but allow fighting to continue elsewhere, especially against Islamic State and other extremist terror groups,: remarks an article in The Guardian.

The terrible conflict in Syria which has already seen hundreds of thousands of deaths and a worldwide humanitarian crisis is one of the world’s worst wars.  With the war continuing on a daily basis, the international community is desperately trying to come up with a workable ceasefire and an end to the killing and bloodshed.

Kazakhstan is offering “a platform for the talks and will not be taking part in the negotiations.” Astana was chosen as a suitable platform to host these negotiations due to the fact that Kazakhstan is objective and neutral in its approach, as well as a reliable partner for all nations. Kazakhstan has friendly relations with Russia, Turkey, European Union states, as well as the United States.

Kazakhstan has built a reputation as an honest broker in international diplomacy across such issues as the Iran Nuclear talks and the crisis in Ukraine,” comments an article on the Syrian peace talks in a Kazakh publication discussing its role in the Syria Peace Talks.

Kazakhstan will continue to host the Astana Peace Process talks this summer and, will also be hosting the well-known Expo 2017 in its capital city of Astana which will be attracting visitors from around the world.

While the Astana Peace process is seen as complementary to the ongoing talks on Syria in Geneva, Kazakhstan offering its services as a host as a neutral country is having some observers calling Astana the “Geneva of Central Asia” as it is hosting and has hosted so many international events in the past decade.

Astana is far enough away from the conflict in Syria to be an important neutral place to continue to hold talks.  Plus, with good relations with both the United States and Russia, Kazakhstan is neutral and is not engaged at all in the Syrian question.  This is a very important point for all parties of the conflict.  In the past, Astana has played a significant role in the normalization of relations between Russia and Turkey.

The May 4th memorandum on safe zones is a positive sign for a war that needs to come to an end in Syria.  Hopefully, the next meeting in the “diplomatic hub” of Astana will bring the terrible war in Syria closer to an end.  The Astana Process, where the United States sent its Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs “raised the level of American presence in the continuing talks in the Kazakhstan capital city.”  Previously, the United States “had only dispatched its ambassador to the Astana to the previous rounds.”

The White House said this week that President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed ‘safe, or de-escalation zone’ in a Tuesday phone call.  But the Trump administration has not specified publicly what it is willing to support or how.

“At least half a million people are estimated to have been killed in Syria’s war, and half its population displaced,” remarks The Washington Post in its May 4th article “Russia, Iran, Turkey make Syria pact.”

Hopefully, the small success of the May meeting of the Astana Peace Process, will bring further and larger successes when the international powers meet again in Astana this summer to try and resolve this terrible and tragic conflict in Syria.

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