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US calls for ending Astana talks if Syria constitutional committee not formed

December 6, 2018 at 2:23 pm

US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey [Twitter]

US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey has called on Russia, Turkey and Iran to convene the proposed Syrian constitutional committee this month, suggesting that the Astana talks should be ended if the milestone is not achieved.

“The US’ view is let’s pull the plug on Astana,” Jeffrey said during a press conference at the State Department this week. “We were hoping…that the Russians, the Iranians, and the Turks would be able to finalise the third list of members to this constitutional committee, and that was a primary goal of the Astana meeting last Thursday.”

However, he added that the parties “did not take any significant action on the constitutional committee,” but simply stated once again that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. All they did was reaffirm their determination to set up joint efforts to launch the constitutional committee in Geneva, Jeffrey told reporters.

“It is very clear that the Damascus regime, the Russians and Iranians want to see the ‘three Rs’,” Jeffrey said. “Refugees pushed back to Syria, reconstruction aid and the Bashar Al-Assad regime to be recognised as legitimate. None of those things are happening, and they are not going to happen unless the political process makes progress.”

The statements follow a meeting with representatives from Germany, France, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt at the State Department, during which, according to Jeffrey, officials discussed a new process that would be UN-facilitated and Syrian-led, to create a permanent, peaceful and political end, in line with UN Resolution 2254.

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Jeffrey also noted that the US is looking forward to UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s final report to the Security Council on 14 December before he steps down, describing it as “the key point where we see whether we are going to have the political process moving forward under the UN.”

The proposed plan was rejected by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who argued that the Astana process had started due to the failure of the UN-led Geneva process.

“It is a wrongful statement. The statement by Jeffrey is unfortunate. I don’t think those were his own thoughts,” Cavusoglu told a group of journalists. “If we have been able to come to this point, it was thanks to this process.”

“Turkey never allowed Astana and Sochi to become alternatives to the Geneva process; international legitimacy is very crucial. But nothing happened in Geneva, no steps were taken [in Geneva] on the issues I referred to, not even a real meeting,” he added.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also criticised Jeffrey’s remarks as “unconstructive”, alleging that they played into the hands of those who oppose the peaceful settlement of the Syria crisis.

The Astana process began in January 2017, with the eleventh round of talks concluding last month. However they have been marred by scepticism, as the Syrian government has moved to retake significant territory from the opposition, violating ceasefire agreements and Russian airplanes continuing to strike within de-escalation zones.

The longevity of the Sochi deal, agreed upon by Russia and Turkey to secure a ceasefire around the last opposition stronghold of Idlib, has also lately come under question, with dozens of civilians killed over the past several weeks as a result of government shelling on towns in the buffer zone.

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