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  • Monday, July 10 2017
  • Maria Wouters
  • Analysis
  • Geopolitics
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Syria's government and opposition meet today for a 7th round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva with little expectation of a breakthrough to end the six-year conflict. The Geneva process has been increasingly overshadowed by a separate track organised in Astana by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

 

The seventh round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva have stared with the meeting between the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the Syrian governmental delegation headed by Bashar Jaafari. The meeting is taking place at the Palace of Nations, the United Nations’ Geneva headquarters. The objective of this round is to focus on four different elements: a new constitution, governance, elections and combating terrorism.

Syria's opposition insists that President Bashar al-Assad must step down as part of any political solution to the war, but the government says Assad's fate is not up for discussion1.

Since January, the Geneva talks have been overshadowed by a separate process held in Astana,  organised by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The three countries agreed in May to set up four "de-escalation zones" in Syria, though they have so far failed to agree details necessary to implement the plan. Neither the Syrian government nor rebel groups are present on Astana talks2.

Meanwhile, US, Russian and Jordanian officials have agreed a ceasefire in southern Syria that began yesterday and covers three provinces included in one of the "de-escalation" zones.

 

Geneva or Astana ?

Syria's opposition fears the Astana talks are a way for government allies to control the negotiation process. We may see this on Russian declarations as Sputnik declared last week “Russia is pleased with the progress achieved at international Syrian reconciliation talks in Astana and hopes that all Syrian opposition forces will engage with Damascus in Geneva”3.

By attending the Geneva talks, Yehya al-Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee said, the opposition hoped to preserve the track. "The goal is to maintain some momentum for a political solution in light of Russia's attempts to divert attention to Astana, which it wants to design and shape as it wishes"1.

Syria analyst Sam Heller, writing for the Century Foundation think-tank, said the opposition and its backers viewed Geneva as "a chance for smaller tactical wins and a vessel for a possible future deal". "It's also about keeping an internationally recognised political process shaped by key opposition backers, rather than ceding the negotiating space to the rival Astana negotiations track, over which Russia has presided"1.

 

SOURCES

  1. “Syria sides meet again in Geneva, with expectations low”, Middle East Eye, 10/07/17, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syria-sides-meet-again-geneva-expectations-low-654621052
  2. “5th Round of Astana Syria Peace Talks End Without Agreement”, The Diplomat, 07/07/17, http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/5th-round-of-astana-syria-peace-talks-end-without-agreement/
  3. “Russia Pleased With Astana Talks, Hopes Opposition Engages Damascus in Geneva”, Sputnik News, 06/07/17, https://sputniknews.com/politics/201707061055277501-russia-syria-astana-talks/

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