Syria Peace Talks in Kazakhstan: What to Expect

A new round of Syrian peace talks began today in Astana, Kazakhstan. These talks include representatives from the Assad’s government and as well as many of the various Syrian rebel groups. Delegates from Russia, Turkey, Iran and the United Nations are also involved.

They were organized by Russia and Turkey, which back opposite sides in the conflict. Meanwhile, the United States, another major foreign actor in the war, won’t be involved, with the exception of the American ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Russia stated that it invited all the opposition groups except ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (which is backed by al-Qaeda). The Syrian Democratic Council however, which is heavily Kurdish and backed by the US, said it did not receive an invitation to attend. Meanwhile, Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamist coalition, refused to attend because of violations of the latest ceasefire by the Assad government.

The two sides have vastly different goals that they want to achieve through the peace talks. Assad is looking for a complete surrender on part of the rebels, in exchange for total amnesty. Of course, this is unacceptable to the said rebels, because this would just bring back Syria to how it was before 2011, with Assad as the dictator of the entire country. The rebels are looking only for a ceasefire, in order to prevent more civilian casualties.

Ultimately, the demands of the rebel groups are more realistic. While the UN-brokered talks, scheduled to take place on February 8th, may bring a permanent solution onto the table, these will not. The best case scenario is a regional ceasefire, especially in the area around Wadi Barada. Both sides have contradictory aims, which can’t be met halfway. Even the rebels themselves are not a homogeneous group, and their proposed solutions vary tremendously.