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Intra-Syrian Meeting Begins in Astana

Jan. 23, 2017 (EIRNS)—In Astana, Khazakstan, the meeting between Syrian government representatives and representatives of armed opposition groups opened this morning, with both sides apparently in the same room for the opening, where the Kazakh foreign minister, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, read a welcome statement from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Then they went to separate rooms, where their discussions were mediated by UN Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura. According to most reports, tensions between the two sides were high, but at the same time, both sides avoided the kinds of actions that would sabotage the talks altogether.

"It will make it possible to reach a qualitatively new level in the negotiating process," said Alexander Lavrentyev, President Putin’s special envoy on the Syrian settlement and chief of the Russian diplomatic delegation in Astana.

"The Russian delegation had a meeting with the Syrian government delegation led by Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari. The meeting was very constructive,"

Lavrentyev said. "The Syrian side demonstrates a complete understanding and a very constructive approach."

The Syrian opposition delegation expressed similar optimism after the first day of talks.

"The sides are expected to work now on a mechanism of ceasefire observance," said opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi, reports TASS. He added that only the idea of such mechanism is being looked at. The Syrian opposition believes it has found understanding from Russia at talks in Astana: "We see that they have achieved their military goals and now want a political settlement," he said.

One item that will not be discussed in Astana is the fate of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Al-Aridi, reports the Associated Press, said there was no plan to discuss Assad’s position before addressing what he said were ongoing government violations of the cease-fire.

"I don’t think there’s a context for that now. Nobody is ready for this," al-Aridi told reporters in Astana. "We need a commitment to that cease-fire."

As for Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the three guarantor powers of the cease-fire agreement, they expect to issue a communique, tomorrow, on cooperation to fight terrorism. According to another report in Tass, the communique will say that Russia, Turkey, and Iran welcome the separation of terrorists and groups of armed opposition, and plan to jointly fight against militants of the Islamic State and the al-Nusra terrorists groups. The three governments also plan to set up a trilateral mechanism to monitor the cease-fire in Syria.