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Egypt yet to receive invite for Astana talks

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AFP)
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.

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