21st Session of Astana Talks Begins January 24

Credit: (Republic of Kazakhstan)

 The 21st round of the Astana talks on Syria is set to take place on January 24-25 in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, the participants include the Assad regime, the Syrian National Council (SNC) an Istanbul-based opposition group, and guarantors Iran, Russia and Turkey, with the UN, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon as possible observers. The talks will emphasize the necessity of resuming work on the Constitutional Committee, the issue of detainees, and the entry of humanitarian aid from multiple crossings.

Ahmed Touma, a member of the SNC delegation, confirmed their participation in the upcoming talks, stating that their primary focus will be on the rights of the Syrian people and finding a political solution. He clarified that the normalization of relations between Turkey and the Assad regime is not on the table for the SNC, as it falls under a different track.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry announced the upcoming round of negotiations, which will be held at the invitation of the guarantor countries, on January 24 and 25. The previous meeting in this format was held in June 2023 and was attended by delegations from Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Assad regime, the SNC, and observers from the UN, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.

The days before the gathering are tense as previous year’s meetings have coincided with increases in violence by Russian and Assad forces, as witnessed both in 2022 and 2023. The initiative for the upcoming talks came from the UN envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, who conducted preliminary rounds of dialogue with the involved parties before announcing the date. The Assad regime delegation will be headed by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Bassam Sabbagh.

The previous round of talks focused on rebuilding confidence, including issues of prisoners, improving conditions for the return of refugees, and the situation in areas not under the regime’s control. The guarantor countries stressed the necessity of supporting the safe and voluntary return of refugees to Syria and called on the international community to provide necessary assistance to refugees and displaced persons.

The most significant development in the previous round was Kazakhstan’s announcement of its withdrawal from the Astana track after hosting twenty rounds of negotiations. However, the three guarantor countries expressed their commitment to continuing the talks under this format, leading to the upcoming round being held in Astana.

Despite some reservations about the timing and preparation for the new round, the Russian government welcomed the effort to revitalize communications between the parties concerned with the settlement in Syria. While some are hopeful, previous sessions have produced little in the way of substantive change and many Syrian revolutionary factions have previously rejected participation in the process noting the failure to meet the demands of the revolution and people the first of which is the removal of Assad and his regime.


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