Finally there is hope for peace in Syria. Now let's concentrate on fighting Isil (article by Ambassador Yakovenko in The Daily Telegraph, 25 January 2017)
For almost a year and a half, as the British government and media were accusing Russia of pursuing a military solution in Syria, we have patiently said that fighting terrorists complements the peace process. Their presence is a foreign intervention, which distorts everything. Not always was our voice heard, but today facts on the ground prove us to be right, and hope for peace is palpable.
The two-day meeting this week between the Syrian government and the armed opposition in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, has become an important step towards political settlement. The special thing about these talks, organized by Russia and Turkey following very intensive preparatory work, and attended by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, as well as Iran and the US representative (albeit as an observer), is that they are the first time when these two Syrian sides met face to face, at the same table, even for a brief time.
Until now the armed opposition has stayed behind the scenes. Previous attempts to start an intra-Syrian dialogue, such as the UN-led Geneva talks, only involved the political opposition, which was mainly made up of émigrés. But including both sides was crucial for maintaining the nationwide truce that came into effect last month. So the Astana talks are not about excluding those opposition groups which have refused to attend – quite the contrary. They are not a substitute for the Geneva process, but a complement to it.
Subsequent rounds of intra-Syrian talks, including the ones to be held in Geneva on 8 February, will involve the Syrian Government and all the rebel groups without exception: the “Riyadh” group, the “Moscow” group, the “Cairo” group, and others. A delegation of the armed opposition will now join the political opposition and become part of the implementation of the “roadmap for peace” outlined in UN Security Council resolution 2254, which calls for an inclusive intra-Syrian process. This will definitely make the talks between all the Syrians more substantive and more promising.
All this gives the long-stalled peace process a new lease of life. But what is also very important for Syria’s peaceful future is that Russia, Turkey and Iran have reached an agreement on establishing a trilateral mechanism to monitor and ensure full compliance of all sides with the ceasefire and prevent any provocations. In their joint statement as guarantors of the agreement, these governments committed themselves to working closely within this mechanism. Its first meeting of experts has already taken place in Astana, and the next will be held in a week or two.
Now that progress is finally being made towards peace, it is vital for the international community to ensure that this political process is accompanied by a collective counterterrorist effort. We have seen the cautious endorsement of the Astana talks by Foreign Office and we welcome it. US President Donald Trump has stated repeatedly that fighting Isil will be his priority. We completely share this approach, and hope that international cooperation and coordination by all the main players on this front will be far more effective. Indeed, in Astana the armed opposition groups had meetings with the Russian team, comprising diplomats and the military, to discuss such cooperation – meaning, first of all, fighting Isil.