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DIPLOMACY >Turkey, Russia differ on Astana agenda

Sevil Erkuş – ANKARA

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Talks on Syria are expected to start on Feb. 16 in Astana following a one-day delay, but Ankara and Moscow have differed on the purpose of the discussions in the Kazakh capital.

Since Russia furnished Syrian opposition representatives with a draft constitution for Syria in January talks in Astana, Ankara has refrained from discussing the future administrative make-up of Syria at the meeting in Kazakhstan, in contrast to Moscow’s attempts to make the talks a venue for political discussions.

The talks, which were delayed by one day for “technical reasons,” are likely to focus on bolstering a shaky cease-fire brokered by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara and to facilitate the creation of a “monitoring mechanism” to maintain the truce.  

Turkey insists the agenda in Astana meetings should be limited to talks aiming to consolidate the cease-fire in the war-torn country, monitor the truce and determine measures against cease-fire violations. 

Turkey has avoided any discussions on a political settlement, saying Astana should not be an alternative to U.N.-sponsored talks in Geneva, the venue for political negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the regime.  

The Geneva talks scheduled for Feb. 23 are expected to be wider-ranging and focus on key issues such as the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.   

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Feb. 13 said the Astana meeting would be a chance to “monitor the commitment of different parties to refrain from using force and to promote, encourage, the political process.” 

A Syrian source close to the government told AFP that the discussions in Astana would be “purely military.”
Syrian opposition representatives, who have threatened this week to boycott the talks, are not happy with the attitude of Russia to push the regime to comply fully with the cease-fire, a Turkish official told Hürriyet Daily News.

The Syrian opposition demands humanitarian aid access and the release of detainees before any negotiations over Syria’s political future.

The Syrian government said on Feb. 13 it was ready to agree on prisoner swaps with rebel groups. Syrian state media cited an official source as saying the government was ready to exchange prisoners in its jails for people “kidnapped by terrorist groups.”

This month, the Syrian regime and opposition groups swapped dozens of women prisoners and hostages, some of them with their children, in Hama province in northwestern Syria.

Russia is sending presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentiev, Iran is dispatching Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, while Turkey will likely send a Foreign Ministry department head to the Astana talks, according to officials.

The U.N.’s envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he would not participate personally in the latest Astana meeting but that his office would be represented by a “technical team.”  

Jordan will also be represented by a “high-level delegation,” government spokesman Mohamed Momani said.

February/16/2017

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