Hosting Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan: why and how?

Last December President Nazarbayev offered to hold Syrian peace talks in Astana during his telephone conversations with the leaders of Russia and Turkey (Inform.KZ, 2016). A day earlier, during his visit to Japan Putin informed that it is important to provide the current president of Syria, al-Assad and the opposition groups with a peace platform to restart the negotiation process. Interestingly, a day earlier Putin suggested Astana to be the next stop for Syrian peace talks (RadioLiberty, 2016). According to the Russian coalition Astana is an appropriate region for Syrian peace talks for many reasons. The Kazakh authorities approved this offer and agreed that Astana peace talks will be held on 23rd of January (Vlast.kz, 2017).

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Photo credit: Al Jazeera

Since the Syrian crisis every day we observe how the situation is escalating into a severe bloodshed and murder of innocent children and women. According to the UN estimates, just in Aleppo, nearly 400,000 people have been killed, including 16,000 children (The UN, 2016). The war has also allowed extremist terrorist groups, including Daesh, to take hold in some parts of Syria and carry out human atrocities.

The latest reports of the successful evacuation of many civilians in Aleppo are, of course, good news. However, it would be wrong to see this as a sign that the conflict in Syria is ending. Therefore, leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran alongside with Nazarbayev see the importance of holding peace talks in Astana. In 2015 Astana has already hosted meetings between representatives of the Syrian opposition but previous meetings did not succeed. Since Kazakhstan is a good partner both to Russia and Turkey as well as Kazakhstan is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Astana is believed to be a neutral mediator in the resolution of Syrian crisis. Moreover, this year Kazakhstan holds a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council which increases Kazakhstan’s role in accomodating thepeace talks. However, to what extent it is something that Astana needs? What are potential costs and benefits of hosting such a serious but at the same time challenging talks?

Previous attempts to resolve Syrian crisis failed. The first informal meeting was initiated by Russian government in 2012 but invitation to the peace talks was declined by the leader of Syrian National Council, Abdel Baset Seda (Syrian opposition group). In 2012 Sarkozy initiated contact group “Friends of Syria” to find a solution on Syrian conflict and hold four meeting in that year. The 2012 Kofi Annan Peace Plan on Syria and its opposition groups also failed. Geneva I, Geneva II, and Geneva III Syrian peace talks also did not result in profound changes. On November 2013 Russia attempted to broker talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and Syrian opposition groups but these attempts also failed due to the failed agreement between the Kremlin and the White House on whether Assad should stay in office or not.  Therefore, is it realistic that another shot of peace talks in Astana will do something positive about Syria?

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Photo credit: Al Jazeera

From one perspective, Astana peace talks are promising. In his interview to the French journalists, Syrian President Assad claimed that his government is ready to negotiate “on everything” in Astana. Moreover, during his interview Assad acknowledged that there were mistakes from the government side and that his government is ready to cooperate with moderate opposition groups if they lay down arms. Thus, Assad on behalf of the Syrian government is open to peaceful cooperation. Interestingly, the Jaish al-Islam armed opposition group led by Mohammad Alloush has agreed to back Astana peace talks by stating that “Astana is a process to end the bloodletting by the regime and its allies. We want to end this series of crimes.” (Al Jazeera, 2017). However, the number of other rebel groups as Ahrar al-Sham refused to attend Astana since in their opinion Syria issue will not be end in one day meeting (Al Jazeera, 2017). Therefore, whether engaged parties will reach ceasefire is a question.

However, from another perspective, whether Astana peace talks will be successful depends on the broker states. Since Iran is willing to include Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar into the debate, it can be problematic for Russia because it is no secret that the Kremlin prefers to sustain Assad in his position while Gulf States support particular opposition groups. Thus, despite the fact Astana has agreed to hold these peace talks, it is essential to ensure that involved states’ interests are not in conflict but rather their interests will facilitate sooner rehabilitation of Syria.

References

Al Jazeera, 2017, “Syrian Rebel Groups to Attend Peace Talks in Astana”http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/01/syria-war-rebel-groups-attend-astana-peace-talks-170116140328801.html

Peter Hobson, 2016, “Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev says ready to host Syria peace talks in Astana” http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-astana-idUSKBN14F0L8

Inform.KZ, 2017. “Syrian Opposition Supports Peace talks in Astana”, http://www.inform.kz/en/syrian-opposition-supports-peace-talks-in-astana_a2989094

By Aizhan Kakenova

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