More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011. The Syrian conflict, it seems, has been a long-awaited breakthrough. The parties are willing to sit at the negotiating table in the broadest format to discuss possible ways of resolving the protracted and bloody confrontation. The dialogue is scheduled to be held on January 23, 2017. Those who in one way or another involved in this conflict are ready to participate in a direct dialog being held at a neutral place, the capital of Kazakhstan – Astana.
Russia, Turkey and Iran adopted a declaration on the immediate steps to promote the settlement of the Syria’s crisis. The three countries agreed to take on the role of guarantors to facilitate the process preserving the territorial integrity of Syria and spreading the cessation of hostilities to all parts of the country. Other states are welcome to join. The declaration was just a start, the efforts by the three parties will continue. The document was signed by the three countries’ foreign and defense chiefs at the December 20, 2016 meeting in Moscow. The three countries will fight together Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra (Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and other extremist groups. The parties would be ready to mediate a deal between the Syrian government and opposition. They considered the proposal of Russian President to convene a meeting between the Syrian regime and opposition groups in the Kazakh capital of Astana, taking the crisis management process into their hands to achieve real results – something international efforts in other formats have failed to do.
Negotiations on the settlement of the Syrian conflict lasts, in fact, almost from the beginning of the conflict, more than three years. During this time, has been changed the format of the site and discussions, as well as the list of participants. The meetings in Lausanne, Geneva and Vienna round format. Three and a half years of unsuccessful attempts to stop the fire of civil war, the victims of which, according to various sources, have become about 400 thousand people. Nearly seven million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes and become refugees.
Of course, the dry figures of statistics cannot convey all the pain and horror of this war, to talk about the fate of the maimed, the unfortunate children who have been orphaned, as inconsolable mothers who lost their sons. To understand the full extent of the Syrian tragedy is enough to compare photos of cities once prosperous Middle East countries with current shots. The ruin and ashes. One can argue about who is to blame. But whether it is necessary? It is more important to answer the question “What should to do?”. And this, obviously, is understood by all parties directly or indirectly involved in the conflict.
The readiness to take part in the negotiations already stated by representatives of the official authorities and the moderate opposition of Syria, delegates from Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Support for the meeting at the Astana site expressed in the USA, China and UN. Note that in this case the initiative came not from Astana. Interest in the peace negotiations on Kazakhstan’s territory was expressed by presidents of Russia and Turkey in a telephone conversation with Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Kazakh leader said in response its readiness to give a platform and provide all the necessary conditions for such negotiations. Now this issue is already being discussed at the level of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the aforementioned countries.
The selection of Astana as a venue for talks on Syrian Crisis is very important in view of its credibility and experience in holding such meetings. Selection surprise very few people. Kazakhstan – is neutral and objective, not only to the Syrian issue. And it is very important for all parties to the conflict. In addition, Kazakhstan has repeatedly played the role of peacemaker. Astana has played a significant role in the normalization of relations between Russia and Turkey in the most acute phase of the conflict in the backdrop of downed Russian plane by Turkey. In addition, the role of Kazakhstan as an important mediator in facilitating the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program and has repeatedly affirmed its willingness to organize the diplomatic ground for talks to resolve the armed conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Considering all these factors, experts expect that negotiations on Syrian issue will be more successful in Astana than meeting in Geneva format, which some politicians, do not hesitate strong statement, openly referred to as “failures.”
There is no doubt that today Kazakhstan is recognized as a respected country, a significant player in the international arena, so it is hoped that the dialogue finally become more trusting and constructive to stop the bloodshed and to achieve agreement between the official authorities of Syria and the part of the Syrian opposition, which has the ability and sense to agree.
Keeping in view the complexity of the conflict, we should not expect that it would be settled one meeting only. The resolution of the Syrian Crisis would definitely require persistent efforts by all the stakeholders. The dialogue in Astana is a great opportunity not to be missed. In case the first negotiations in a new format in Astana, Kazakhstan are successful. Then it might become a permanent platform for dialogue on Syrian issue.
Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on January 22, 2017.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.