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Russian chief negotiator comments on outcome of Syria peace talks in Astana

The head of the Russian delegation believes Damascus’ violations of ceasefire often explained by response to Jabhat al-Nusra provocations
Turkish Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Sedat Onal, Russia's special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura and Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaber Ansari  EPA/IGOR KOVALENKO
Turkish Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Sedat Onal, Russia's special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura and Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaber Ansari

ASTANA, January 24. /TASS/. Moscow expects the Syrian armed opposition’s response to Syria’s draft Constitution transferred to it, Russia’s chief negotiator at the talks in Astana Alexander Lavrentiev said on Tuesday.

"The negotiations with the armed Syrian opposition recognized as a whole the importance of the launch of a political process and the need to start work on elaborating a new Constitution of Syria, the need for its eventual adoption either through a referendum or in another acceptable form upon the expression of the will of the Syrian people and [the need for] the subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections," he said.

"We’ll hope that the armed Syrian opposition will be more active in this direction," the head of the Russian delegation said. "We’ll be trying to help it in that."

"We have transferred a draft Constitution of Syria prepared by Russian specialists to the Syrian armed opposition," the chief negotiator said.

"We have done this solely because we want to expedite this process and give it an additional and stimulating impetus, without interfering in the very process of the examination and the adoption of the country’s fundamental law," Lavrentiev said. "We believe that this process should be led by the Syrian people itself," he said. Kazakhstan’s capital turned out to be the right choice for holding negotiations on Syria, he went on.  

"The presence of the Syrian delegation and their consent for direct contacts in the same hall indicate that the venue was chosen correctly. We would have probably failed to persuade them (representatives of the Syrian government and armed opposition - TASS) to join the talks elsewhere," Lavrentiev said, adding that Russia, Iran, Turkey demonstrated full readiness for cooperation.

According to Lavrentiev, "there will be speculations that Astana is trying to substitute for the Geneva process." "Nothing of the kind. The participants in the negotiations are fully aware that the Astana process is a very good supplement to the Geneva format," he emphasized.

Monitoring process

More and more armed groups seeking to join ceasefire in Syria, Lavrentiev stressed, adding that armed opposition should become full-fledged participant in Geneva talks. 

"Signals are coming that more groups are ready to join the process," he said, adding that representatives from a total of 15 groups that has just signed the agreement took part in the talks in Astana.

"The actions initiated by Russia, backed by Turkey and then Iran found support among other armed groups, which see that they may stay ‘overboard’ this process," he noted. 

Moscow deems it is correct to urge the armed opposition to political settlement. Damascus, opposition may be involved in the work of the ceasefire monitoring group in Syria, he said. 

Lavrentiev went on to say that operational team on monitoring Syrian ceasefire will start its work in Astana in early February.

"Our military experts, in coordination with all parties, have reached an agreement on setting up the so-called joint trilateral group, which will begin its work here, in Astana, in early February," he noted. "That is, the task of this group will be the issue of compliance with the ceasefire and prevention of any violations."

Ceasefire violations

Ceasefire violations in Syria are registered on both sides, but the government troops have to retaliate to provocations by terrorists, Lavrentiev said.

He said representatives of the armed opposition believe the ceasefire violations come "only from the Syrian government army". "Nevertheless, recording of violations over the recent time makes it possible to come to the conclusion that violations do happen, but happen on both sides," Lavrentiev noted.

"Most often violations from the Syrian army are triggered by provocative actions from units of Jabhat al-Nusra."

Military experts managed on maps to separate opposition fighters and terrorists from IS, he went on. Russian military is making every effort to ensure there are no ceasefire violations in Syria by Damascus.

"Our delegation’s military experts discussed issues during today’s contacts with the armed opposition to separate opposition groups from the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra," the Russian diplomat said.

"Very enormous work has been carried out on maps, including the work by our military. Efforts have succeeded in agreeing the lines of contact and separation from the IS," he said.

US in Astana process

Russia’s chief negotiator at Astana talks said US ambassador was informed about Trump administration’s signals about readiness to join Astana process.

"I had contacts with the US ambassador to Kazakhstan today. He expressed interest in joining and said that such signals are coming from the new administration of President [Donald] Trump," he said.

"I don’t rule out that new guarantors may emerge, but they must have influence on concrete groups of the armed opposition," Lavrentyev said. "So far I cannot say (about the US), but we would welcome if the US played a more active role," he remarked.

Situation in Wadi Barada 

According to Lavrentiev, Iran could participate in settling the situation in the Wadi Barada valley near the Syrian capital of Damascus.

"I think we will exert efforts, without a doubt," he said. "As far as I know, government troops are deployed to the Wadi Barada area, there are no Shia militias there."