The Astana meeting was aiming at securing a ceasefire that would allow the political reform process to start in Syria. The fact that the Syrian regime and the representatives of the armed opposition were able to sit around a negotiation table is already a success in itself.
The representatives of the opposition insist that they will not sign a communiqué until the regime forces stop bombing their positions, the sieges of several rebel held areas is lifted and the prisoners are released. The representatives of the regime and of the opposition refused to negotiate face to face. Minor violations of ceasefire and mutual recriminations between the Syrian government and the opposition may also continue after the meeting. However this should not be perceived as a collapse of the process.
Now that the three countries, Turkey, Russia and Iran decided to cooperate to monitor the ceasefire, one may expect that the number of mutual recriminations by the regime and the opposition may go down.
The participation of the US as an observer should not be regarded as a reluctance by the US to get involved in the process. It should be attributed more to the fact that the Astana meeting coincided with the ceremonies of the transfer of power in the US. The involvement of the US is important because the Astana meeting was presented as complementary to the Geneva process for Syria. Therefore when the subject will come to the agenda of the United Nations, the contribution of the US will become important. It is also important that Iran did not make the US participation a major issue for the holding of the Astana meeting.
The Way Forward in Syria May Not Be Quite So Simple
Syria’s almost six-year-old civil war, which has strained U.S.-Russia relations from its beginning despite a joint agreement to destroy the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stocks and repeated attempts to negotiate cease-fires and peace agreements, may be one of the earliest tests for any new effort at rebuilding a functional relationship between the United States and Russia. It could prove to be a more challenging test than some now expect.
One important feature of the Astana meeting for Turkey is that it is has added an additional concrete substance to the Turkey-Russia cooperation in Syria. One can only hope to see that this cooperation is extended to new areas in the Syrian crisis.
One has to admit that the positions of Turkey, Russia and Iran are not identical on the question of violations of the ceasefire. There are nuances between their respective perceptions of violation, that is to say which party is responsible for the violations. But there are also differences among their positions regarding the subsequent stages of the Syrian crisis: Iran may fear that an increased role of Russia in Syria may jeopardise Iran’s role as an important power-broker in Syria. Turkey has yet to decide how it will retreat from its initial policy that President Beshar Assad should not play a role in the future of Syria. Such nuances should not be exaggerated and these three countries should seize this opportunity to cooperate in order to find a common ground between their diverging positions.