Kazakhstan abruptly announces it will no longer host talks to end Syria conflict

AP , Wednesday 21 Jun 2023

Kazakhstan abruptly said on Wednesday it will stop hosting talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict that erupted 12 years ago.

Astana talks
File photo: A picture shows a general view during a fifth round of Syria peace talks on July 5, 2017, in Astana. AFP


The decision was a surprise to Russia and other participants at the wrapping up of the 20th round of talks held in the capital, Astana

Since 2017, the former Soviet nation has provided a venue for talks to representatives of Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran on ways to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said that the talks have fulfilled their mission and “the initial goals, including the creation of de-escalation zones, ending the bloodshed and reducing the number of casualties have been fully implemented.”

The foreign ministry spokesman, Aibek Smadiyarov, cited Syria's recent return to the Arab League and the efforts to restore ties with Turkey as proof that the Astana talks have achieved their purpose.

But Alexander Lavrentyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Syria, who led Moscow's delegation at the talks, said that Kazakhstan's decision came as a complete surprise.

“The Kazakh foreign ministry's move was unexpected,” he told reporters after the talks wrapped up.

Lavrentyev said that no decision has been made regarding the venue for future talks, but added that they could be held in Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, or even Damascus in the second half of the year.

This week's round of talks followed an ongoing improvement in ties between Syria and some Arab countries that once backed opposition groups fighting inside the country and called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Lavrentyev hailed Syria’s reinstatement to the Arab League in May during its summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as an “important step” towards ending the conflict.

Representatives from the UN and Syria’s neighboring countries Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq attended the Astana talks as observers. They expressed hope to see a swift end to the conflict and the return of millions of refugees living in their countries.

A statement by Turkey, Russia, and Iran noted that the latest round of talks in Astana was “constructive” and discussed "progress in preparing the roadmap for the restoration of relations between Turkey and Syria.”

Moscow has waged a military campaign in Syria since September 2015, teaming up with Iran to help Assad's government reclaim control over most of the country.

While the bulk of Russia’s armed forces has been busy fighting in Ukraine, Moscow has maintained its military foothold in Syria and has also made persistent efforts to help Assad rebuild fractured ties with Turkey and other countries in the region.

Turkey has had troops in northwestern Syria backing opposition fighters in an opposition-held enclave there.

Syrian Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sousan said on Tuesday that Turkey should produce a “clear timeline” for the withdrawal of its forces from Syria.

In May, Turkey and Syria’s foreign ministers agreed to set up a “roadmap” to improve strained ties following talks in Moscow, days after the war-torn country was readmitted to the Arab League. It marked the highest-level contact between the two countries since the start of the uprising turned-civil war over a decade ago.

The Syrian conflict killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million.

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