The seventh round of talks on the Syrian civil war ended in Astana yesterday (31 October) with a deal between the three “guarantor states” – Russia, Iran and Turkey – for a “congress of national dialogue” to be held in the Russian city of Sochi despite some naysaying from the side of the Syrian opposition. While Turkey supports the opposition, Russia and Iran back Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Kazakhstan is offering its capital to be a neutral venue for peace talks on Syria, though the Astana negotiations do not replace the Geneva peace process but rather supplement them by focusing on humanitarian issues. The European Union is not represented in the Astana talks. They are a platform for the three guarantors or the ceasefire regime, the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition represented by a number of groupings as well as observers – the United Nations, the United States and Jordan.
The previous Astana meeting was held in May and the participating parties agreed to establish “de-escalation zones” in the city of Idlib and some parts of Latakia, Homs, Aleppo and Hama as well as Daraa, Eastern Ghouta and Damascus. The main topics of this round were humanitarian access, demining, exchange of prisoners and the dead and search for the missing persons. It was also reported by diplomats that Russia would like to hold the talks under its auspices, possibly also aiming to work on a new constitution for the war-stricken Syria. Since the war began in 2011, it has claimed more than 400,000 lives, according to the United Nations, and more than 11 million people have been forced from their homes.