Russia’s envoy voices concern over activation of terror groups in Syria

Kremlin, Tehran hold talks prior to formal talks on Syria in Kazakhstan

December 21, 2021 - 18:33

TEHRAN – Moscow is concerned about the rise of terrorist groups in Syria, not only in the country’s north but elsewhere, the Russian president’s special envoy for Syria told reporters on Tuesday.

"We are concerned over the activation of terrorist groups recently not only in Syria's north but on the territory of the whole country," Alexander Lavrentiev said ahead of the first day of Syrian talks in Kazakh capital on Tuesday, December 21.

The Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan is holding the talks in the Astana format today.

Nur-Sultan is the new name the Kazakh capital, formerly called Astana. The talks on Syria held in Kazakhstan were known as the Astana format, Astana process or Astana group. The main participants or power brokers at the Astana format have been Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Russia and Iran have been mainly backing the central government while Turkey has been the main supporter of the militant opposition groups. This does not mean that Iran and Russia don't respect the legitimate rights of the opposition groups.  Resorting to militancy the opposition paved the ground for the rise of various terrorist groups, including Daesh in its Arabic name .

Negotiations to resolve the Syrian war, which broke out in 2011, have been ongoing in Nur-Sultan since 2017 with the mediation of the guarantor-states of the Astana format.

According to Kazakhstan, which organizes the event, the parties will review the current situation in Syria, maintaining peace in de-escalation zones in line with earlier agreements reached during the Astana process, Sputnik reported.

Additionally, the parties will discuss the prospects of the Syrian Constitutional Committee with a view to give an impetus to the Geneva talks within the United Nations framework.

The delegations from Iran, Russia, Turkey, the Syrian government, and the Syrian opposition were to take part in the negotiations. Representatives of the UN, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq are expected to attend as observers. The consultations in Nur-Sultan will last for two days.

The UN side will be headed by Deputy Special Envoy Khawla Mohammed Ali Matar.

Meanwhile, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry has yet to confirm that the Iranian, Russian and Turkish foreign ministers will meet in Nur-Sultan as part of the talks. Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi had previously said that a meeting of the top diplomats of the Astana format was under consideration.

According to IRNA, Lavrentiev held talks on Tuesday with Ali Asghar Khaji, the senior advisor to Iranian foreign minister in preparation to the start of the Astana talks.

Lavrentiev also said he had held talks with his Turkish counterparts on Syria.

In these talks, specified steps that should be taken to broker peace in Syria were reviewed, Lavrentiev said, according to the TASS news agency,

Talking to reporters in Nur Sultan, Putin’s special envoy described talks with Iranian and Turkish counterparts “very constructive” in which all issues related to Syria were studied.

About his meeting with Khaji, the head of the Iranian negotiating team, the Russian diplomat said talks were held on stabilizing Syria for reinforcing ceasefire.

According to a Russian official, in the talks with the Iranian and Turkish sides, the situation in Idlib, south Syria and north Syria and the country’s border with Turkey and also an intensification of terrorist groups in Syria were analyzed.

Iran, Russia and Turkey are considered as guarantors of peace in Syria.

Lavrentiev said the guarantor countries have no alternative other activating the Syrian Constitutional Committee and fully support it, IRNA reported.

The Russian special envoy added there will be no problem for issuing a joint statement by the guarantor countries.

It is the 17 meeting between Iran, Russia and Turkey about Syria being held in Kazakhstan.  The sides are expected to issue a communique at the end of the talks.

Putin’s special envoy says Syrian opposition makes ‘unacceptable’ demands

The Syrian opposition often makes demands that are unacceptable to other negotiators, hindering the talks of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva, Lavrentiev said on Tuesday.

UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen visited Damascus earlier where he enlisted the support for the work of national delegations, TASS quouted Lavrentiev as saying.

"We very much hope that similar work will be done with the opposition," he said after consultations with the Turkish and Iranian delegations.

The opposition has a way of making demands and asking questions that prompts the pro-government side to adopt the hard line, the envoy said.

"We need to go down the path of finding compromises, of not provoking each other to take tough steps," he said. "You can’t dictate something and can’t make proposals that are absolutely unacceptable for the other side, for example, for Damascus," Lavrentiev said.

Putin’s special envoy for Syria said the talks stumbled on the role of the armed forces and special services in society. "This is a very painful issue," he said.

UN envoy outlines ‘possibilities for progress’ in Syria next year

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen told the Security Council on Monday that now is the time to explore whether a political process in Syria can meaningfully move forward in 2022.

“No one should expect miracles or quick solutions – the path forward will be necessarily incremental. But I hope that this coming year we can work on concrete steps towards the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254,” Pedersen said. 

The resolution, adopted in December 2015, outlines a roadmap for a peace process in Syria, where a decade of war has killed more than 350,000 people, according to news.un.org.   

‘Military solution remains an illusion’

Six years on, it remains “regrettably a long way” from being implemented, said  Pedersen. “But I do believe there are possibilities for progress that need to be explored in 2022.” 

A “strategic stalemate” has continued on the ground for 21 months, he said, “making it increasingly clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the outcome of the conflict, and that a military solution remains an illusion.” 

Furthermore, all sides face grave risks and costs “by simply trying to muddle through with the unacceptable status quo”, he added, especially given factors that include ongoing suffering and displacement, economic collapse, the de facto division of the country, and the dangers of renewed escalation. 

“The status quo has many dangers, and it would be folly only to manage an unacceptable and deteriorating stalemate,” said Pedersen. “Equally, the realities facing all parties should promote an interest in compromise, and open opportunities for concrete steps forward on the political track.” 

The UN envoy reported that he has highlighting these dynamics in all his engagements with those who can help end the fighting. 

“With each passing month, I have sensed a wider realization than before that political and economic steps are needed - and that these can really only happen together – step-by-step, step-for-step,” he said. 

Pedersen met recently with the Syrian government in Damascus, and with foreign ministers from the region.  He also briefed American, European, Arab and Turkish envoys when they met in Brussels. 

“My sense from all these engagements is that there is still great mistrust on all sides,” he said. “Nevertheless, there is enough interest from all sides to test what could be possible via a wider political process.” 

To further explore this, Pedersen has been consulting senior officials from key Syrian and international stakeholders.  Talks have been held in Geneva so far with Russia, the European Union, Turkey and Qatar.  Consultations with additional participants are also anticipated. 

“Let me recall here that while the political solution in Syria must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, many issues are not solely in the hands of the Syrians. Moreover, we have seen that when key stakeholders work together with mutual steps on issues of common concern, at least some progress has been possible,” he said. 

Constitutional Committee update 

At the same time, Mr. Pederson remains “actively engaged” in getting the Syrian Constitutional Committee to reconvene, while also meeting with civil society representatives, including members of the Women’s Advisory Board. 

The Constitutional Committee comprises equal numbers of representatives from the Syrian Government, opposition and civil society, the so-called “Middle Third”. 

A drafting process began during its last meeting, held in October in Geneva, but ended without consensus on moving forward. 

Pedersen said it was important that delegations not only table texts but be ready to commit to revising them, in light of discussions held over recent weeks in Damascus and Istanbul. 

“To be clear: I am ready to convene a seventh session of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva as soon as understandings are in place. And once they are, we will of course brief the Civil Society Middle Third in preparation for a seventh session.” 

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