25 January, 2017
Turkey, Russia and Iran have agreed to set up a process to help enforce a partial ceasefire in Syria.
Negotiators for the three sides met for two days of talks with Syrian government and rebel representatives in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
The three also agreed to support efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Wednesday that the meetings were, in his words, "a serious diplomatic success."
Yildirim said that any resolution of the conflict should involve a new Syrian government that represents "all factions."
A major point of disagreement in earlier talks has been the influence of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in any new government. Turkey supports the Syrian rebels. They want Assad to leave power. But Assad's supporters, including Russia, want him to remain as president.
A statement released at the end of the talks said the Syrian government and opposition should meet next month in Geneva, Switzerland.
After the talks in Astana, opposition groups expressed concern about the plan developed by Turkey, Russia and Iran to ensure all sides obey the ceasefire.
Issam Alrayyes represents the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front. He said his group has always expressed concern about promises made by foreign governments. He added, "We hope this time that Russia is taking a different role."
The leader of the Syrian opposition delegation, Muhammad Alloush, said he gave Russia a detailed proposal for a peace deal. He said he expects an answer within a week.
Syrian government and opposition did not talk directly
The Syrian government, Russia and Iran all welcomed the trilateral plan. However, the government said its forces would push forward with an offensive against rebels close to Damascus. Syrian officials said the military is fighting terrorist groups allied with al Qaida.
The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, also was the government's negotiator at the Astana talks. He said all sides had agreed on the final declaration.
However, any major agreement remains unlikely because the Syrian rebel delegation refused to talk directly to the government. Also, some rebel groups were not invited to the talks because of their links to Jihadist groups.
The U.N.'s special diplomat for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said there are many groups, including extremists, fighting in Syria. Making progress between the government and rebels, he said, is difficult.
Russia, Iran and Turkey negotiated the current ceasefire in Syria in late December. However, the Syrian government and rebels have repeatedly broken the truce, which does not cover the whole country.
The talks in Astana were the first negotiations organized by Iran, Russia and Turkey. Some observers are concerned the peace effort may overtake Syrian negotiations that have taken place in Geneva.
However, Syrian expert Noah Bonsey says the new negotiations are more likely, in his words, "something in-between." Bonsey is with the International Crisis Group. He said the Astana talks offer something different from the Geneva peace talks, but also provide new energy to negotiations there.
The rebel groups in Astana said they will not attend the next meeting in Geneva if the current ceasefire fails. The next meeting is expected to take place on February 8.
Syrian opposition representatives met in Kazakhstan in 2015. U.N. diplomats organized peace talks involving other nations including the United States. They resulted in earlier, unsuccessful ceasefires.
Russia and Turkey invited the U.S. government to the Astana talks. But the State Department said new President Donald Trump was setting up his administration. The U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan did attend the talks as an observer.
I'm Mario Ritter.
Daniel Schearf and Chris Hannas reported this story for VOANews. Mario Ritter adapted their report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
faction – n. group that has different ideas or opinions that those of the larger group of which it is a part
role – n. the part someone plays in a situation or system
jihadist – adj. describing someone or something linked to religious war mainly against non-Muslims
trilateral – adj. involving three people or groups