Egypt yet to receive invite for Astana talks

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Egypt yet to receive invite for Astana talks

CAIRO: Contrary to reports from Russian news agency TASS, Egypt has not yet received a formal invitation to participate in the Syria peace talks in Astana. TASS claimed on Monday that an invitation has been sent to Egypt, citing “an Egyptian source familiar with the situation.”
But Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Abu Zeid told Arab News on Tuesday that no such invitation had been received. “Egypt will consider participating in the Astana talks whenever it receives an invitation,” Abu Zeid said. Egypt has repeatedly affirmed that it supports a political solution for the Syrian crisis on the condition that the solution maintains the integrity and unity of the Syrian state.
TASS said Egypt has been invited “to take part as an observer in the Astana talks,” adding that Egypt would probably join the negotiations. But Nourhan El-Sheikh, professor of international relations at Cairo University and a specialist in Russian affairs, told Arab News it is “illogical to assume that an invitation was sent to Egypt” since preparations for the coming round of Astana talks have not been completed.
“If an invitation is meant to be sent to Egypt, that will probably happen by the end of this week,” he said. He added that if Egypt did end up taking an active role in the supervision of the Syrian peace process, the country’s efforts would likely be focused on central areas of the country, including Homs and southern Damascus, rather than northern or southern areas of Syria.
The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said on Tuesday that he would meet the Russian foreign and defense ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Schweigo, in Moscow on Wednesday.
“The meetings will deal with the resumption of the political process in Geneva according to UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” De Mistura explained.
Egypt has recently increased its role in the peace process, most recently sponsoring a cease-fire deal reached on Oct. 12 with a Syrian rebel enclave south of Damascus.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Ansari said after the sixth round of talks in Astana in mid-September that the truce’s guarantors — Russia, Iran and Turkey — were considering sending invitations to new observers for the next round of talks. Russian presidential envoy for the Syrian settlement, Alexander Lavrentyev, said that China, Egypt, the UAE, Iraq and Lebanon would be observers.
Moscow has spearheaded the talks in Astana since the start of the year as it attempts to turn its game-changing military intervention on the ground into a negotiated settlement.
The often-tense Astana negotiations — seen as a complement to broader UN-backed talks in Geneva — have involved armed rebels and government officials and have focused mainly on military issues.


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 27 min 50 sec ago
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.