Astana talks wrap with Syria truce agreement
Peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition groups in the Kazakh capital Astana on Tuesday (January 24th) yielded an agreement to establish a joint "mechanism" to monitor the frail truce in Syria, AFP reported.
But a lasting political solution to the conflict appeared distant after the warring parties engaged in two days of indirect talks.
Turkey, Russia and Iran, the three main sponsors of the negotiations in Astana, announced the creation of "a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with the ceasefire" in place since late December.
The three sponsors also agreed armed opposition groups should take part in a new round of peace talks set to be hosted by the UN in Geneva next month.
"There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and... it can only be solved through a political process," said the final statement by Russia, Iran and Turkey, read out by Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov.
'No notable progress'
The meeting was expected to see the first face-to-face negotiations between the regime and the armed opposition since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011, but the opposition backed out and mediators were forced to shuttle between the two sides.
Opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush told AFP the "intransigence of Iran and the regime" was responsible for "no notable progress" in the negotiations.
The latest diplomatic initiative to end the bloodshed comes one month after regime forces seized full control of the city of Aleppo.
A ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey has been in place since late December, but both the opposition and the regime have complained of repeated violations.
The opposition -- which insisted it would use the Astana talks to push the regime to respect the truce -- refused to engage in direct talks with the regime on Monday because of its continued attacks on Wadi Barada outside Damascus.
Regime negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari said after the end of the talks that the meeting "succeeded in achieving the goal of consolidating the cessation of hostilities for a fixed period, paving the way for dialogue between Syrians".
There were, however, no concrete details given immediately on the three-way mechanism to strengthen the ceasefire and how it would resolve the thorniest issues.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said his organisation was ready to assist in developing the mechanism and "ensure that it helps strengthen the quality of the ceasefire".
The opposition has called for a halt to regime attacks on Wadi Barada, an area 15 kilometres north-west of Damascus, but al-Jaafari insisted operations would continue there.
There was profound rancour and mudslinging between the two delegations.
It also remained to be seen how the sides could patch up differences on the role of the talks' three organisers, Russia, Turkey and Iran.
A member of the opposition delegation told AFP on Monday that the group would agree to have Russia serve as a guarantor of the current ceasefire but not Iran, which controls troops on the ground fighting for the Syrian regime.
The Syrian regime, meanwhile, said it would refuse to hold government-level talks with Turkey and sign any document bearing the signature of a Turkish official.
More than 310,000 people have been killed and more than half of the country's population displaced since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011.