Syria peace talks starting in Astana

ASTANA (TCA) — Representatives of the Syrian government and armed opposition, as well as officials from Russia, Iran, and Turkey, have gathered for Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, scheduled for January 23-24.

Aleksandr Lavrentyev, Russia’s main negotiator, said it still was not clear whether delegations from the Syrian government and the opposition would meet in person or would communicate through intermediaries, RFE/RL reported on January 22.

Russia and Turkey have backed opposing sides, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey backing rebels seeking his ouster.

Syrian opposition leaders say that consolidating the current cease-fire will be their main goal during talks, not Assad’s future.

“At this stage, we have one goal, which has been agreed upon by all the parties included,” Osama Abu Zaid, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, told Al-Jazeera. “That is to consolidate the cease-fire. That is why we came here.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said ahead of the gathering that talks are aimed at securing the cease-fire deal, adding that 14 rebel organizations have agreed to take part, although some major groups have said they will not attend.

The U.S. State Department said it would not send a delegation from Washington to Astana, but the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, George A. Krol, will represent the country.

On January 22, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov met in Astana with the UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who arrived to attend the talks, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry reported.

Staffan de Mistura expressed on behalf of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres the gratitude to the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev for hosting the Syrian talks and stressed that the UN was the first to have supported the idea of holding them in Astana.

Minister Abdrakhmanov pointed out that Kazakhstan considers the UN as a leading actor within the Syrian negotiation process and the forthcoming assembly in Astana is very likely to be a valuable contribution to preparation of the Syrian talks next round to be held in Geneva.

Sergey Kwan