Astana peace talks on Syria flop after rebel no-show
ASTANAPeace efforts for Syria floundered on March 15 as a third round of talks that were sponsored by Russia and Turkey ended with no progress after rebels refused to show up to a meeting in Kazakhstan.
Regime supporters Russia and Iran along with rebel-backer Turkey have been pushing negotiations in Astana since January after gains on the ground by Damascus turned the tables in the six-year war.
The latest two-day meeting saw a delegation from Damascus meet with representatives from the three powers, but leaders of armed rebel groups stayed away for the first time over alleged violations of a fragile cease-fire deal.
Russian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Syrian regime negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari slammed the opposition’s no-show and said it was a blow to any peace efforts.
“They want to break up political negotiations. There are forces that insist on a military solution,” complained Lavrentiev after the end of the meeting.
Jaafari said the rebel boycott signaled the opposition’s “disrespect for the process as a whole.”
Earlier on March 15 the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said Syria’s rebel delegation was expected in Astana on the night of March 15 for peace talks this week aimed at ending the six-year civil war, a spokesman for the ministry said.
Lavrentiev announced that a new meeting was planned for April 18-19 in Tehran, but it seems unlikely that rebels would agree to head to talks hosted by one of Assad’s main backers.
State-run Anadolu Agency also reported that Iran had made one of the guarantors of the Syria cease-fire too, alongside Turkey and Russia.
Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Akylbek Kamaldinov said that there would be a future round of negotiations in Astana on May 3-4.
The Astana talks were initially seen as an attempt by Moscow, Ankara and Tehran to sideline the West over Syria but they have increasingly been billed as a supplement to U.N.-led talks in Geneva, the most recent of which ended this month with no breakthrough.
Both sides have been invited to a new round of talks in Geneva from March 23.
Jaafari said his delegation had not discussed a constitutional commission for the war-torn state during the latest round of Syria peace talks in Astana.
European Union diplomat Federica Mogherini said on March 14 that Syria needed a “proxy peace” supported by the international community instead of the proxy war that has raged for six years and killed some 320,000 people.
Mogherini has for months been talking to Middle East players including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Lebanon, seeking to find a minimum common ground between them on what the future peace could look like.
“I believe there can be a space for all international players and especially all regional actors... see that it’s far more convenient at this moment to turn this into a proxy peace and allow Syria to restart somehow with a political transition that will be needed,” Mogherini told reporters.
Meanwhile, two suicide bombings hit Damascus March 15 including an attack at a central courthouse that killed at least 32 people, as Syria’s war entered its seventh year with the regime now claiming the upper hand.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, the second wave of deadly attacks in the capital in less than a week after twin bombings killed 74 over the weekend.
The March 15’s first attack saw a suicide bomber rush inside the building and blow himself up when police tried to prevent him from entering the courthouse in the center of Damascus, state media reported.
A police source told AFP that 32 people were killed and 100 wounded.
The second blast hit a restaurant in the western Rabweh neighborhood, wounding 25 people, the source said.
“We were terrified because the sound of the explosion was enormous,” a lawyer who was in the courthouse during the first attack told AFP.
“We took refuge in the library which is on a higher floor,” the lawyer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It was a bloody scene.”