What Happened at the 14th Astana Meeting on Syria?

2019/12/17 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online: The Turkish government has announced that its army will remain on the Syrian soil until the political situation in Syria is stabilized despite calls by Iran, Russia and the Damascus government for withdrawal of foreign forces including the Turkish army from Syrian territory. Hassan Hanizadeh - Middle East affairs expert

Syrian peace talks (Astana 14) was held in Kazakhstan Capital City Nursultan (Dec. 10-11, 2019) with the participation of Syrian peace guarantors including the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia and Turkey. In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, Iran, Russia and Turkey reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and highlighted that these principles should be universally respected and complied with;

Syrian opposition calls for an overall change of the constitution, banning presidential tenure for more than two five-year terms, deciding the fate of the armed forces and security apparatus, reducing the powers of the president, delegating executive powers to the prime minister and holding elections and referendum on transferring power to an agreed-upon political figure. And these demands raised at the recent Astana meeting faced opposition from representatives of the Syrian government.

Indeed, representatives of the Syrian government are demanding the transfer of power over a long process and Bashar Assad’s participation in the upcoming presidential election. Therefore, it seems that the talks will take a long time and the output will not be accepted by any of the parties involved.

On the other hand, there is a major disagreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran over the presence of the Turkish military in Idlib. Ankara has occupied parts of Idlib and advanced to a depth of 40 kilometers on Syrian soil. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims that the Syrian Democratic Forces may unilaterally declare autonomy in northeast Syria in the future, which will undermine Turkey’s security. Therefore, the Turkish government has announced that its army will remain on Syrian soil until the political situation is clear, while Iran, Russia and the Damascus government want withdrawal of foreign forces, including the Turkish military, from the Syrian territory.

Of course, a series of coordination has been made between Russia and Turkey for joint operations against terrorist groups. But Moscow’s dispute with Ankara is that the Turkish government considers the Syrian Democratic Forces part of a terrorist group and bombs its positions in northeast Syria, while Russia does not consider the Democratic Party forces terrorist.

It should be noted that Bashar Assad had promised the Kurds to grant them autonomy after the Syrian crisis was over because they had guaranteed that they would cooperate with the Syrian government against the terrorists and that their cooperation was subject to their autonomy after Syria was cleared of the terrorist groups. This issue now has become a crisis in Syria. Moreover, the autonomy defined by the Syrian Kurdish group in the northeast of the country faces opposition from Turkey.

All these differences have led to the recent negotiations of delegates attending the 14th Astana meeting not to be an acceptable achievement.

It must be noted that after eight years of crisis, the Syrian field and political situation has changed in the interest of Bashar Assad’s government. Despite the Turkish military occupation of Idlib, about 95% of Syrian territory has been cleared of terrorist groups, but reports indicate that the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime continue to encourage opposition groups to raise their political demands in the peace talks. So Syria’s political situation is now more complicated than it used to be, while the Syrian Armed Forces and the Resistance Axis have taken the initiative in the field.

Meanwhile, part of the Syrian political community wants Bashar Assad to run in the presidential election (if held). If elections are held Assad is very likely to be elected, but opposition groups provoked by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel are trying to prevent that.

At the same time, there is currently no strong rival known for Assad, but an opposition transitional council may be formed to transfer power in a six-month process but the Syrian government has opposed the idea.

Despite opposition from Washington, Riyadh and Tel Aviv, Iran and Russia also want Bashar al-Assad to run from happening.

Finally, regarding post-war Syria reconstruction, it should be noted that the damage caused by the eight-year Syrian crisis reportedly amounts to $500 billion, and the Syrian government wants all friendly countries, including Iran and Russia, to participate in the reconstruction. However, it seems that rebuilding the country will take 20 years, and countries such as Iran will be involved in the process.

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