Year-end Astana Process Syria Talks Reach New Agreements

The eighth international meeting on Syria, held in Astana Dec. 22 as part of the Astana Process, resulted in a number of finalised documents on confidence-building measures, the eradication of terrorism, increased access to humanitarian relief and support for the political process in the country.

The results of the two-day talks were described as “very important and meaningful” by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Kairat Abdrakhmanov. Kazakhstan in particular welcomed the approval of the Astana Process guarantor states – Iran, Russia and Turkey – of the “Regulation on the Working Group on the release of detainees/abductees and handover of the bodies as well as identification of missing persons” and the “Joint statement on humanitarian mine action in Syria, including UNESCO list of cultural heritage sites.”

A joint communiqué by the guarantor states expressed that the negotiating parties will continue to try to strengthen the ceasefire regime and the functioning of the four de-escalation areas adopted during earlier Astana Process talks, Abdrakhmanov announced in reading the message. The guarantor states also “reaffirmed their determination to continue cooperation in order to ultimately eliminate DAESH/ISIS, Nusra Front and other terrorist entities” as well as to prevent international terrorists from entering Syria.

The sides plan to maintain regular contact as the Jan. 29 to 30 Syrian national dialogue congress in Sochi, Russia, approaches, and the guarantor states will hold a preparatory meeting Jan. 19 and 20. The Syrian national dialogue congress, the communiqué noted, is “an initiative aimed at giving momentum to the negotiation process under the UN auspices in Geneva and facilitating an intra-Syrian agreement based on mutual consent.”

Abdrakhmanov added that he hopes the talks move the Geneva peace talks toward the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2254, which calls for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.

“Today Syria is going through a number of significant developments that offer us new opportunities to pave the way to a peaceful and lasting political settlement of this crisis,” Abdrakhmanov said. “This round of talks is convened at the end of the year and offers a timely opportunity to take stock of the progress made and to identify the tasks that remain ahead.”

Although de-escalation efforts have done much to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria, he said, much work remains to be done, including finding a resolution to “the problem of exchange of detainees, which in our view represents major obstacles in building confidence between Syrians.”

“In this regard, we urge the guarantors and Syrian parties to overcome their differences through dialogue and achieve the final agreement on this humanitarian issue,” Abdrakhmanov said.

The Astana Process brought together delegations from guarantor states Iran, Russia and Turkey; the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian armed opposition; and the UN, led by special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Representatives of Jordan and the United States attended as observers. The next high-level international meeting on Syria in Astana will be held in the second half of February.

The final communiqué on this round of talks also thanked Kazakhstan and President Nursultan Nazarbayev for hosting the Astana Process.