In Multipolarity, May 3, 2017  (with related news and analysis below)

The United States will upgrade its representative to the new round of peace talks for Syria to open in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 3 after a phone conference between Presidents Putin and Trump. Moscow describes the discussion between the two as ‘businesslike’.

Earlier round of peace talks for Syria that took place in Astana, Kazakhstan in January 2017 (Bolat Shaikhinov, Sputnik)

Washington is dispatching a top State Department official as the U.S. representative at the new round of intra-Syrian talks in Astana that kick off Wednesday [April 3]. The move follows a call between U.S. and Russian leaders in which they discussed de-escalation in Syria.

While the U.S. did send its observers to two previous rounds of the ceasefire talks, which were sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran and hosted by Kazakhstan for the fourth time, its senior representative at the meeting was U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol. This time, however, its representative will be Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Stuart Jones, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2014-16 and to Jordan in 2011-14, Reuters reported, citing the State Department.

“Ambassador Jones’ participation as the U.S. observer is indicative of US support for a political resolution to the Syrian crisis,” the U.S. Embassy in Syria, which closed its operation in Damascus in 2012 but keeps working through other diplomatic missions, wrote on Twitter.

Stressing that the U.S. backs “any discussion that can lead to a de-escalation of violence” and result in guarantees of unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to the suffering population, the embassy at the same time cast doubt on the Astana talks of being helpful in either respect.

The announcement was preceded by what the White House described as a “very good” telephone conversation between Russian President Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump. The leaders had an in-depth discussion of the situation in Syria, including the creation of the so-called “safe zones,” long touted by Trump.

While not elaborating on the contents of the conversation, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called it “a very constructive call.”

“It was a very, very fulsome call, a lot of detailed exchanges. So we’ll see where we go from here,” Tillerson said ahead of the meeting with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, on Tuesday. In turn, Moscow referred to the exchange as “constructive” and “businesslike.”

In March, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman revealed that the U.S. delegation in Astana peace talks that were held in mid-March would see “a representative from Washington” attending together with Ambassador Krol. However, he provided no details concerning the status or the identity of the official.

The Putin-Trump phone call on May 2 was the first since the U.S. missile strike on the Syrian airbase at Al-Shairat on April 7, ordered by Trump in response to the chemical incident in the rebel-held Idlib province on April 4, which reportedly led to the deaths of scores of civilians, including children. Despite the Syrian government denying all the claims of its involvement in the alleged chemical attack, Washington said the launch was in retaliation to the incident. Several Syrian military servicemen as well as civilians died as result of the attack. Russia condemned the attack on the Syrian territory as a blatant breach of sovereignty with the US-Russia relations sinking to a new low.

Apart from Syria, Putin and Trump also touched upon North Korea and its nuclear and missile program and how to ease the tension building around the peninsula through diplomatic channels. The leaders also discussed the possibility of a meeting on the sidelines of G20 summit in July.

The first round of Astana peace talks between the representatives of the Syrian rebel groups and the Syrian government in December 2016 resulted in a breakthrough, with a nationwide ceasefire being established in the country since December 30. Serving as guarantors of the truce are Turkey, Russian and Iran. The current talks on May 3-4 will also feature the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, invited by the Kazakh government, as well as representatives from Jordan.

“The observers will remain the same,” Kazakhstan’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi said on Tuesday, as cited by Tasnim News.

Astana talks participants draft memorandum on de-escalation zones in Syria

TASS, May 3, 2017

ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Participants in the talks in Kazakhstan’s Astana have discussed a memorandum on de-escalation zones in Syria, says Aidarbek Tumatov of the country’s Foreign Ministry department of Asian and African Studies. “As of today, the talks are underway regarding a new Russian proposal. It is a memorandum about so-called de-escalation zones where tensions are to be lowered,” Tumatov said.

Apart from that, a document on reconciled areas is being drafted as well, according to the diplomat. “A protocol aimed to strengthen the ceasefire and to exchange prisoners is being drawn up,” he said. “The documents are being considered and we are hoping for a good result.”

Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana hosts the fourth round of intra-Syrian talks on May 3 and 4. A plenary session is scheduled for May 4. Delegations of Russia, Iran and Turkey, which had brokered a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, took part in the negotiations alongside the Syrian government delegation and representatives of the Syrian armed opposition, the United Nations, United States and Jordan.

Related news:
Telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump, report on the website of the President of Russia, May 2, 2017

Trump, Putin discuss Syria ceasefire in first talks since U.S. air strikes on April 7, Reuters, May 2, 2017

Fourth International Meeting on Syria, in Astana on May 3-4, 2017, report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, May 2, 2017

Geneva talks ‘outlined the way forward’ for Syrian settlement – Russian envoy, March 4, 2017


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