Syria:Peace Talks Begin in Astana

Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups have gathered in the Kazakh capital Astana to hold peace talks aimed at ending the six-year conflict in the Arab state, with senior diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey mediating the process.

The two-day talks opened at Astana’s Rixos President Hotel on Monday with Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov delivering the keynote speech.

The negotiations, which are backed by the United Nations, will be held behind closed doors.

At the event, Iran and Russia will be mediating on behalf of the Syrian administration, while Turkey will be siding with the opposition.

On the eve of the negotiations, delegates from the three countries held long-hours talks in Astana. They discussed the direction of the negotiations, including the order in which the oppositionists will be attending.

The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is also in the Kazakh capital for the negotiations.

Late on Sunday, the UN official met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Jaberi Ansari, who is heading the Iranian team of mediators.

During the talks, Jaberi Ansari emphasized the need for the world body to play a role in efforts to speed up the peace process in Syria.

Mediators reportedly want direct discussions between the Syrian government and political opposition.

However, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko said Monday that the parties to the negotiations have yet to agree on direct negotiations, and the issue is still under discussion.

Opposition groups also said they would not negotiate face-to-face with the government in the first session of the discussions.

The US ambassador to Astana will also be joining the discussions as an observer at the host country’s invitation.

The talks will be followed with further UN-monitored negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva on February 8.

Meanwhile, an opposition spokesman has said that the participating groups will only discuss consolidating the ceasefire as well as humanitarian issues, and will not enter a political dialogue.

Last week, President Bashar al-Assad also said the Astana talks would focus on enforcing a cessation of hostilities across Syria.

By Africafrique and agencies

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