ASTANA, Kazakhstan — A two-day round of talks over the Syrian civil war wrapped up on Tuesday with an agreement by Iran, Russia and Turkey to enforce a fragile partial cease-fire. But neither the Syrian government nor the rebel fighters — who briefly met face to face for the first time in nearly six years of war — signed the agreement.
While the three powers agreed to set up a mechanism to monitor and enforce the nearly month-old cease-fire, they did not say what the mechanism should look like, deferring that crucial matter for future talks.
The statement, at least on paper, brought Iran on board with recent new cooperation between Russia and Turkey, and it strengthened Turkey’s commitment to separating rebel groups it supports from jihadist groups.
But representatives of the Syrian delegations — both from the government and from the opposition — immediately expressed reservations, and they emphasized that they had not signed on to a document that had been brokered by the main sponsors of the warring sides in the country, but not by Syrians themselves. Russia is the most powerful backer of the Syrian government, which is also closely allied with Iran, while Turkey has been among the main supporters of rebel groups.
Despite the supposed cease-fire agreement, new clashes were reported in Wadi Barada, a besieged rebel-held area where most of the drinking waterfor Damascus, the Syrian capital, comes from. Water supplies have been cut off for weeks, a situation for which the government and the rebels have each blamed the other.
The agreement among Iran, Russia and Turkey was announced a day after the Syrian factions exchanged harsh words at the start of the talks, which were held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
A main result of the meeting was to firm up Russia’s growing role in the Syria diplomacy, establishing the Astana talks as a part of, but not a replacement for, the Geneva process that has been spearheaded for years by the United Nations and the United States. The new document said meetings in Astana, a capital five time zones east of Geneva with close ties to Turkey but firmly within Russia’s sphere of influence, would be a forum to discuss specific issues that come up within the Geneva framework.
There had been tentative hopes among some rebel negotiators that Russia might be ready to take on a more active role in seeking a political compromise. But there was no concrete progress on political issues, which were excluded from the narrowly focused talks.
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