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Sochi to host Astana meeting on Syria for the first time since start of pandemic

The discussion is expected to focus on the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, which is aimed at drawing up the Arab Republic’s key law

SOCHI, February 16. /TASS/. The international meeting on Syria in the Astana format (Russia, Turkey, Iran) will kick off in Sochi on Tuesday.

The discussion is expected to focus on the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, which is aimed at drawing up the Arab Republic’s key law.

The previous round of the Astana talks was held in Nur-Sultan in December 2019. The next meeting was scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan’s capital in March 2020, but was delayed on numerous occasions due to the epidemiological situation.

However, despite the remaining restrictions over COVID-19, Sochi will host all participants of the Astana format: the delegations of Damascus, the Syrian opposition, the guarantor-states (Russia, Iran and Turkey), observer states (Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and the United Nations), as well as the Astana platform’s host Kazakhstan.

The talks will be held for two days. On February 16, bilateral and trilateral consultations will take place and a plenary session is due on February 17.

According to a TASS source, Damascus will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Ayman Susan. Ankara’s delegation will be led by Selcuk Unal, the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Director for Syria and Tehran’s delegation will be headed by Ali Asghar Haji, senior assistant to the Iranian foreign minister for political issues.

Russia will be represented by Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen will also arrive in Sochi. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told TASS that on February 18 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would meet with Pedersen in Moscow to discuss the outcome of the Sochi discussions and the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.

The parties are expected to discuss a number of pressing issues, including the remaining tensions in the Idlib de-escalation zone, where shelling is carried out by the Jabhat Al-Nusra terror group (outlawed in Russia). Militants are plotting a provocation in the Idlib de-escalation zone to put the blame for strikes at populated localities on Syria’s government forces, Vyacheslav Sytnik, deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria, said on Sunday.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov said in an interview with TASS that nearly 17,000 militants of the Jabhat Al-Nusra terror group jointly with their allies and nearly the same number of members of other illegal arms groups are currently based in Idlib. Besides, militants continue operating in the Trans-Euphrates region in northeastern Syria and the US controlled Al-Tanf area in the south.

The upcoming Sochi meeting is of special importance amid hurdles in the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. In Sochi, the sides are expected to continue considering issues on the Committee’s agenda and possibly, this will bring about positive changes in its work.