MOSCOW, February 16. /TASS/. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will discuss efforts to defuse the Syrian conflict in Moscow on Thursday. The Russian minister will brief the UN envoy on the work within the framework of the "Astana process" launched by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The two sides will exchange views on preparations for the next round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, earlier said that "during the contacts with the special envoy, the Russian side emphasizes that the UN-sponsored intra-Syrian negotiations due to be held in Geneva on February 23 should be held in strict compliance with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which suggests the maximum inclusive and equitable participation by various segments of the Syrian opposition."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov will hold separate consultations with de Mistura.
Lavrov’s meeting with de Mistura will take place against the backdrop of the talks underway in Astana that involve Russia, Turkey and Iran, along with the delegations of the Syrian government and the opposition. Representatives of Jordan, the UN and the United States take part in the consultations as observers. The key issue at the meeting is drafting mechanisms to maintain and ensure the ceasefire in Syria. This is the second meeting in this format. The first one was held on January 23-24, while a meeting of the joint group on the ceasefire in Syria that brought together delegations from Russia, Turkey and Iran, took place on February 6.
The participants in the Astana talks are trying to reach the agreements, which will enshrine the procedure of preventing and responding to ceasefire violations. Such agreements are expected to take the military issues off the agenda and pave the way for a political debate at the next round of the intra-Syrian negotiations due in Geneva in late February. The outcome of the negotiations in Geneva will thus depend to a large extent on the results of the Astana talks.
De Mistura is planning to open the new Geneva round after a nearly year-long break on February 23. However, delegations will begin arriving in Geneva for preliminary consultations on February 20. Meanwhile, it is unclear yet how the Syrian opposition will be represented in Geneva, as attempts to form a single delegation have so far been futile.
Representatives of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) did not take part in the meeting with Lavrov in Moscow on February 27, which brought together representatives of the Moscow, Cairo, Hmeymim groups and the Kurds. On February 10, the HNC held a meeting in Riyadh where it formed its own delegation, offering the Moscow and Cairo groups one seat each. However, this proposal was rejected, with members of these two groups noting the need for a balanced representation of the opposition.
It is highly likely that the opposition will be represented at the Geneva talks by several delegations. Representatives of the High Negotiations Committee argue that they are the only representatives of the Syrian people. Russia has repeatedly spoken out against such approaches referring to the UN Security Council resolution, which points to the need for an inclusive representation of the opposition. The lack of unity among opposition members during the previous rounds was one of the reasons why the parties failed to go over to direct talks. The Syrian government delegation noted that it was unclear with whom the dialogue on the settlement should be maintained. Lavrov said on numerous occasions that it is necessary to proceed to direct talks and discuss specific issues concerning the country’s future political structure in Geneva instead of trying to clarify technical details.
All these issues, namely, the representation of the opposition, the prospects of a single delegation and the transition to direct negotiations will apparently be discussed during Lavrov’s meeting with de Mistura on Thursday.