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‘Virtual Confrontation’ over Syria Anticipated at Sochi

‘Virtual Confrontation’ over Syria Anticipated at Sochi

Tuesday, 16 February, 2021 - 07:15
The leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey meet in Sochi. (Reuters file photo)

The three “guarantors” in Syria - Russia, Iran and Turkey - are set to meet in Sochi on Tuesday and Wednesday in a “virtual confrontation” between two opposing approaches over the war-torn country.

The first is the desire of western and regional countries, including the United States, for United Nations envoy Geir Pedersen to refrain from calling for a new meeting of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva. This bloc has been demanding that an agreement be reached on the procedures of the committee and a work plan for its next rounds before a new date can be set. The US is also still reviewing its policy on Syria.

The second view, shared by Russia, Iran and Turkey, is keen on keeping the committee in its current cycle of fruitless meetings. They believe that the committee itself is an achievement that can thwart efforts to implement UN Security Council 2254. They are also seeking to hold the upcoming presidential elections in Syria in May according to the 2012 constitution.

‘Separatist’ agenda

Deputy foreign ministers of the guarantor countries are set to meet in Sochi. Pedersen, representatives of Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, and officials from UN agencies will also be present.

The meeting was preceded by a similar one in Geneva in late January. It was dedicated to addressing the constitutional path. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had last met, virtually, in summer 2020.

Ankara is seeking for the new Sochi talks to include a recommitment to the Idlib truce that was sponsored by Putin and Erdogan in March. Moscow is hoping to open up a new path, that of humanitarian work, to build on the international refugee conference it had sponsored in Damascus in late 2020. Tehran, meanwhile, is seeking a stance against Israeli raids on Syria, the most recent of which took place against Damascus overnight on Sunday.

The guarantors are in agreement that the Sochi meeting will be an opportunity to express their rejection of a “separatist” agenda in northeastern Syria. The position will preempt the stance of the new American administration, which will likely commit to the continued US military deployment in Syria and increase support to the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.

Ongoing division

The guarantors will also address the latest Constitutional Committee talks that ended in a failure. Pedersen himself had expressed his disappointment in the stalled talks and their failure to devise a mechanism to draft a constitution.

He was also hoping for some sort of international consensus on Syria, but the latest Security Council meeting revealed the ongoing Western-Russian division over the conflict. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent discussions with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Syria were limited to Washington’s support for a settlement based on resolution 2254 and for sending cross border humanitarian aid.

Last week, the Security Council failed to agree on a joint declaration on war-torn Syria, capping a day of negotiations in which Pedersen called to jump-start the deadlocked peace process. Russia had objected to an article that supported Pedersen’s efforts in Syria and lamented the lack of progress in talks over the constitution. It had also objected to supporting the envoy’s diplomatic efforts to achieve progress in the implementation of resolution 2254.

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