The Washington Post reports: Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed Tuesday to the outlines of a plan to reinforce a cease-fire in Syria, establishing the three most significant allies of the protagonists in the conflict as guarantors to a peace process.
The deal concluded two days of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, that drew Iran into a burgeoning alliance with Russia and Turkey over ways to secure a settlement. It set broad but vague parameters for a cease-fire enforcement mechanism and committed the three countries to jointly fight the Islamic State and Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate. It will also provide a test of Russia’s new role as the lead power broker in efforts to secure a sustainable, long-term solution to the war.
The United States, which is not a party to the emerging peace process, said it welcomed any “actions that sustainably de-escalate violence and reduce suffering in Syria,” according to a statement issued by the State Department in Washington. [Continue reading…]
Martin Chulov writes: Russia and Turkey had much on the line at the Astana peace talks, but at the end of the two-day summit on Syria, their returns were – at face value – modest. The gathering culminated in a predictable communique, endorsed by Iran, which aims to strengthen a nominal ceasefire in place since 30 December.
But other, more enduring, themes emerged from the gathering. First, Russia, one of the six-year war’s main protagonists, is serious about negotiating an end to the conflict and is prepared to do more than ever to achieve that. Second, although the Assad regime is winning on the battlefield with the robust backing of Moscow and Iran, it has a relatively weak diplomatic hand.
The long predicted moment when Russia will need to declare its intentions towards Bashar al-Assad is closer than ever. So too is a reckoning for the Syrian leader with his other patron, Iran, against whom Russia and Turkey have increasingly sided since Iranian-backed forces led the recapture of Aleppo.
For the first time, Russia broke ranks with the Assad regime at Astana, chiding it for claiming that al-Qaida was leading an assault on the Wadi Barada area near Damascus, and suggesting that Iranian and Syrian forces, not the opposition, were breaching the ceasefire. It also overtly legitimised two groups that Syrian officials had long labelled as terrorists, the conservative Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, both significant components of the armed opposition. [Continue reading…]