The first talks in a year between the two waring sides in the Syria conflict begin today (Jan 23) in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Russia, Turkey and Iran are sponsoring the two day meeting. Russia faces a new set of challenges as it attempts to move from participant in the conflict to peace broker.
It’s unclear if representatives of the Syrian government and rebels will hold face to face talks.
Opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said there are two main objectives:
“First is the consolidation of the accord signed by Turkey and Russia on the 30th of December, concerning the ceasefire, and making this ceasefire cover all of Syria and at the same time taking care of all the breaches by the regime and Iran, especially in Wadi Barada and Homs and in southern Damascus and other areas in Syria.”
Russia and Turkey appear to have set aside their differences over the political fate of President Bashar al-Assad to try to forge a wider Syria deal.
Moscow backs Assad, while Ankara has diluted its demands for the Syrian leader to urgently step down as part of what some sources say is a backroom deal aimed at dividing Syria into informal zones of regional power influence.
Meanwhile in the Syrian city of Aleppo which last year was recaptured by Assad’s forces, hopes are high that progress can be made.
“I hope that the conference in Kazakhstan will lead to a reconciliation. I hope that they all agree to stand with us and that God stands by our side too. God willing things will be well,” said one woman in Aleppo.
“I hope that the conference will be frank and that every word they will be saying will lead to a good result. That all the disagreements can be solved and God willing security and safety prevails as it was in the past.”
The talks will be closely followed in Syria and by the millions of Syrian refugees scattered across the globe.
UN Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is also participating in the talks, which are to be followed by more political negotiations in February in Geneva.