Syrian peace process

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The Syrian peace process is the ensemble of initiatives and plans to resolve the Syrian Civil War, which has been ongoing in Syria since 2011 and has spilled beyond its borders. The peace process has been moderated by the Arab League, the UN Special Envoy on Syria, Russia and Western powers.[1] The negotiating parties to end the conflict are typically representatives of the Syrian Ba'athist government and Syrian opposition, while the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is usually excluded at the insistence of Turkey.[2][3] Radical Salafist forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have not engaged in any contacts on peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The attempts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict and bring stability to the Middle East began in late 2011, when the Arab League launched two initiatives, but without much success. Russia in January 2012 and in November 2013 suggested talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and the opposition. In March-May 2012, hopes were on a United Nations/Arab League plan coordinated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In January and February 2014, the Geneva II Conference on Syria took place, organised by then-UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. On 30 October 2015, further talks started in Vienna involving officials from the U.S., the EU, Russia, China and various regional actors such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and, for the first time, Iran. Peace talks with rebel leadership continued in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2017.[4] The Kazakh officials are offering Astana as a neutral venue and "a natural home" for peace negotiations on Syria.[5] The latest major effort to bring about an end to the war started in October 2019 in Geneva with the convening of the Syrian Constitutional Committee to draft a new constitution for Syria under the auspices of the United Nations.


Arab League peace plans 2011–2012[edit]

Muslims, and Christians at a meeting with Arab League monitors in Damascus on 17 January 2012

In November 2011–January 2012, the Arab League (AL) twice tried to accomplish an end to Syrian government (and opposition) violence and convince both parties to start talks instead of fighting.

After the Syrian government's agreement to the AL plan of 19 December the AL sent a monitoring mission to Syria. Violence continued and Saudi Arabia on 22 January withdrew its monitors from the mission, and called on Russia, China and all other states to pressure Syria strongly to adhere to the AL peace plan. The Arab League on 28 January 2012 ended its monitoring mission.[1]

Russian peace initiatives for Syria[edit]

2012 'informal talks' proposal[edit]

On January 30, 2012, the Russian foreign ministry suggested "informal" talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and opposition, and said the Syrian authorities had already agreed to the Russian offer. Abdel Baset Seda, a member of the Syrian National Council's executive committee, told Reuters that the SNC had not received any formal invitation for such talks, but would decline if one arrived: "Our position has not changed and it is that there is no dialogue with (President Bashar al-Assad)".[6]

February 2012: offering the fall of Assad[edit]

In February 2012 Martti Ahtisaari held talks with envoys of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. During those discussions, the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, proposed a three-point plan that would bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiation table and result in Assad stepping down as president. But, according to Ahtisaari, the US, Britain, and France rejected that proposal, being convinced that fall of Assad's government was inevitable. "It was an opportunity lost in 2012," he said in an interview in September 2015. Other Western diplomats refute Ahtisaari's claims, with one stating, "I very much doubt the P3 [the US, UK and France] refused or dismissed any such strategy offer at the time. The questions were more to do with sequencing—the beginning or end of process—and with Russia's ability to deliver—to get Assad to step down."[7]

Brokerage Proposal, 2013[edit]

On 7 November 2013, Russia again announced it was trying to broker talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and opposition, seeing that the U.S. and Russian negotiators failed to agree on whether or not Assad should be forced out of office.[8] Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov said, the Moscow talks could focus on humanitarian problems as well on some political issues.[8]

Friends of Syria Group, February 2012[edit]

In February 2012, the then French President Sarkozy initiated an international "contact group" to find a solution for the Syrian conflict, after Russia and China had vetoed a 4 February 2012 UN Security Council resolution.[9] The group held four meetings, all in the year 2012.

Kofi Annan Peace Plan, March 2012[edit]

The Kofi Annan peace plan (Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League),[10] launched in March 2012, intended to commit both the Syrian government and opposition to a cease fire and commit the Syrian government to initiate deliberations with the opposition on their aspirations and concerns. After Annan on 12 April had assumed that both parties had agreed to a cease fire, the UN already on 1 May had to admit that both parties were violating it.

Geneva I, June 2012[edit]

An "action group" conference (now referred to as Geneva I Conference on Syria) was held on Saturday 30 June 2012, in Geneva, initiated by the then UN peace envoy to Syria Kofi Annan,[11] and attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, a representative of China, British Foreign Secretary Hague, and Kofi Annan.[12] Mr Annan, issuing a communiqué,[13] said that the conference agreed [14] on the need for a "transitional government body with full executive powers" which could include members of the present Syrian government and of the opposition.[12] William Hague said that all five permanent members of the UN Security Council—the US, Russia, China, France and the UK—supported Mr Annan's efforts.[12] Clinton however suggested that Syrian dictator Assad could, in such transitional government, not remain in power, which immediately was contradicted by Lavrov.[12]

The Geneva talks were condemned by Ahrar al-Sham leader Hassan Abboud.[15]

16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement[edit]

During the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held from 26 to 31 August 2012 in Tehran, Iran and attended by leaders of 120 countries, Iran intended to draw up a new peace resolution aiming to resolve the Syrian civil war.[16] but a consensus was not reached between the leaders.

Eid al-Adha cease fire attempt, September 2012[edit]

Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, appointed on September 1, 2012, as the new UN–Arab League special representative for Syria, appealed on both the Syrian government and the armed opposition to stop the killing during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, which fell that year probably on 26 October 2012, and 3 or 4 days after it. Government and most of the opposition groups said 'yes' to his appeal. Yet, according to Brahimi, the lull in the fighting lasted very short, after which both parties accused the other of not having stopped its violence.[11]

Geneva II, 2014[edit]

The Geneva II Middle East peace conference was a United Nations-backed international (peace) conference, aimed at bringing Syrian government and opposition together to discuss a transitional government. Lakhdar Brahimi, UN special envoy to Syria, tried to pursue the conference in close cooperation with the U.S. and Russia. It started on 22 January 2014 and ended on 31 January; no agreement was reached.

Astana Opposition conference (2015)[edit]

In early April, Randa Kassis asked the Kazakh President to host talks in Astana. The President Nursultan Nazarbayev accepted the proposal.[17] This initiative has been criticized by some of Syrian Opposition members.[18] On 25—27 May 2015, a number of Syrian Opposition groups convened in Astana, Kazakhstan [19][20] The Syrian government chose not to attend.[21]

A second conference was held in Astana on 2–4 October 2015; the assembled Opposition groups adopted a declaration that called for the parliamentary election scheduled for 2016 to be held under the supervision of the international community; Nursultan Nazarbayev was asked to step in as a mediator in the Syrian conflict.[22][23][24]

The talks were mediated by Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Askar Mussinov and Director of the French Centre for Political and Foreign Affairs Fabien Baussart. Mme Gulshara Abdykalikova, the Secretary of State of Kazakhstan opened the talks in Astana.[25]

Four Committees Initiative[edit]

The Four committees initiative is a proposal put forward by United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura on 29 July 2015 as a way to start the peace process in the Syrian Civil War.[26] There had been no peace talks on Syria since the Geneva II meetings in early 2014 ended in failure.[27]

Zabadani Ceasefire Agreement[edit]

In September 2015 Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian government, announced a six-month truce between the rebel-held town of Zabadani near Damascus and two Shia towns in the north-west of Syria. The deal was reached after mediation from Iran.[28]

Vienna Process (since October 2015)[edit]

On 23 October 2015, the Foreign Ministers of the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey met and talked in Vienna, Austria, to find a way to end the Syrian conflict.[29]

On 30 October 2015, the first round of the Syria peace talks were held in Vienna with foreign ministers of 20 countries participating: U.S., Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and other countries. The ministers agreed on the need of the Syrian government and opposition to start political talks.[30][31] The second round of the Vienna talks held in mid-November produced an agreement on the need to convene Syrian government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations under UN auspices with a target date of 1 January 2016.[32]

A day after a meeting of anti-government factions, including Ahrar ash-Sham, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 10 December produced a statement of principles to guide peace talks with the Syrian government,[33][34] Syrian president Bashar Assad said he would not negotiate with "foreign terrorists."[35] Russia also rejected the outcome of the meeting in Riyadh, which it said was unrepresentative and included terrorist groups.[36]

After John Kerry visited Moscow where he met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov as well as Vladimir Putin on 15 December, it was announced that on 18 December 2015 world powers would meet in New York to pass a UN resolution endorsing the principles of the Syria peace process.[36]

On 18 December 2015, the UN Security Council, having overcome the gridlock on Syria that had persisted since October 2011,[37][38][39] unanimously passed Resolution 2254 (2015), endorsing the ISSG's transitional plan that set out a timetable for formal talks and a unity government within six months; the resolution put UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura in charge of organising Syria talks.[40][41] However, the major powers remained divided on who should represent the Syrian opposition; no mention was made of the future role of Syrian President Bashar Assad.[42][43]

December 2015 Riyadh conference of Syrian opposition groups[edit]

On 10 December 2015, a two-day meeting started in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, aiming at unifying Syria's opposition groups and forming an opposition delegation for the planned negotiations with the Syrian government (see Syria peace talks in Vienna#14 November 2015 meeting).[44][45]

Syrian Kurdish factions were not represented at the meeting in Riyadh.[45] Jabhat al-Nusra had not been invited because of its assumed 'terrorist links' or al-Qaeda ties.[45]

An agreement emerged on 12 December:[45] 34 opposition groups and individuals allied themselves as 'the High Negotiations Committee'.[46] This included, among others, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, but did not include Syrian Kurds[46] and not include some moderate opposition members supported by Russia.[47] Two of the 34 members are women, augmented by a women-only advisory body known as the Women's Consultative Committee.[48]

France announced that "the Syrian opposition" had reached an agreement and had "adopted a common program" in Riyadh.[44] Apart from France and Saudi Arabia, also Turkey and Qatar supported that 'High Negotiation Committee'.[46]

The High Negotiation Committee was tasked with identifying 15 individuals willing and able to serve on the official opposition delegation to the Geneva III negotiations, of which 3 were women.

Russia however said that those gathered in Riyadh did not represent all opposition groups and therefore were not in a position to speak on behalf of the entire Syrian opposition.[44]

Geneva III, January 2016[edit]

On Friday, 29 January 2016, a UN Peace Conference for Syria started in Geneva in Switzerland. At the first day, Syrian government and opposition refused to sit in the same room together. On 3 February 2016, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura suspended the peace talks.[49]

Russian foreign minister Lavrov commented that "the [Syrian] opposition took a completely unconstructive position and tried to put forward preconditions".[citation needed]

Rebel commanders were cited as saying they hoped the peace talks' collapse would "convince their foreign backers, states including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that it was time to send them more powerful and advanced weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles".[50]

The Syrian Women's Advisory Board, February 2016[edit]

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced appointment of a 12-woman advisory body, name the Women's Advisory Board (or "WAB" for short) on 2 February 2016.[51] WAB members include opposition, government sympathizers, and Islamist-tending women.[48] The WAB, however, is politically unaffiliated; the board does not participate directly in the negotiations but does advise the UN mediator on all proceedings.

The WAB has been criticized for the lack of transparency in member selection, with allegations that it is unrepresentative. The Syrian Women's Network went as far as to withdraw from the WAB based on these critiques.[52]

Cessation of Hostilities, February 2016[edit]

On 12 February 2016, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) established an ISSG ceasefire task force, under the auspices of the UN, co-chaired by Russia and the United States, and issued a joint communique saying inter alia: "An ISSG task force will within one week elaborate modalities for a nationwide cessation of hostilities."

On 22 February 2016, in Munich, foreign ministers of Russia and the U.S., as co-chairs of the ISSG,[53] announced that they had concluded a deal to seek a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria to begin a week later.[54] The deal set out the Terms for a Cessation of Hostilities in Syria. Russia and the U.S. proposed that the cessation of hostilities commence at 00:00 (Damascus time) on February 27, 2016.[53]

The ISSG countries are supposed to monitor compliance with the terms of the truce, which was pronounced as of 29 February 2016, when the ISSG task force met in Geneva, to be largely holding.[55][56]

September 2016 cease fire deal[edit]

On 10 September 2016, Russia and U.S. reached a deal on establishing a cease fire between the Syrian Assad government and a US-supported coalition of so-called 'mainstream Syrian opposition rebel groups' including umbrella group 'High Negotiations Committee' (HNC), effective from 12 September, while jointly agreeing to continue attacks on Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (former al-Nusra Front) and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).[57]

After US-led coalition airstrikes on Syrian Army troops on 17 September, of which the US claimed it was an accident, the Syrian government declared the ceasefire to be over.

October 2016 Lausanne talks[edit]

On 15 October, the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Iran had talks about the Syrian war, in Lausanne.[58]

Initiation of Astana talks, and ceasefire (December 2016)[edit]

In mid-December 2016, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey agreed to suggest Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, as a new venue for carrying on the Syria peace talks.[59]

On 20 December 2016, the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey, and Russia agreed, pursuant to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 (Dec. 2015), to hold Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.[60]

On 28 December 2016, Turkey and Russia agreed on a nationwide ceasefire plan for Syria to go into effect at 00:00 on 30 December 2016.[61][62] The Syrian Democratic Council—representing the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish, Arab and Syriac militias mostly led by YPG—was not invited to the talks.[63] ISIL, the al-Nusra Front, and the YPG were excluded from the ceasefire, and the following rebel groups signed up for the truce:

However, the Ahrar al-Sham spokesman denied having signed the deal.[64]

The political efforts by Russia and Turkey were endorsed by the UN Resolution 2336 adopted 31 December 2016.[65]

First round of Astana talks (January 2017)[edit]

Russia's special envoy on Syria and lead negotiator to the Astana talks, Alexander Lavrentyev, 23 January 2017
The International Meeting on Syrian Settlement in Astana, 25 January 2017

On 23 January 2017, a Syrian opposition delegation that included twelve rebel factions convened with Syria's government delegation, headed by Bashar Jaafari, in Astana for indirect talks titled the International Meeting on Syrian Settlement, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.[66][67] Astana was agreed on as the venue, since it was viewed as neutral by all the parties involved.[68] The opposition side included Mohammed Alloush, the political leader of Jaysh al-Islam,[69] which Russia had proposed designating as a terrorist organisation.[59]

The start of talks in Astana was described as the "Astana-isation" of the Geneva talks, implying a shift towards the Syrian opposition conducting military operations and away from Syrians with only political influence.[70] The talks took place on 23 and 24 January; the first day ended without the sides reaching an agreement.[71] The "Astana Process" talks aimed to support the framework in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254,[72] and ended on the 24th with an agreement between Iran, Russia, and Turkey to form a joint monitoring body to work to enforce the Resolution 2254 ceasefire.[73]

After the talks in January 2017, Russia offered a draft for a future constitution of Syria, which would inter alia turn the "Syrian Arab Republic" into the "Republic of Syria", introduce decentralized authorities as well as elements of federalism like "association areas", strengthen the parliament at the cost of the presidency, and realize secularism by abolishing Islamic jurisprudence as a source of legislation.[74][75][76][77]

Geneva IV, February–March 2017[edit]

The Geneva IV peace talks on Syria were talks between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition under the auspices of the United Nations. The opposition was represented by the High Negotiations Committee, while the government delegation was led by Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari.[78] The talks began on 23 February 2017 and concluded on 3 March. The government delegation sought to focus on counter-terrorism while the opposition sought to focus on political transition.[79]

February 2017 Astana talks[edit]

Two days of talks on strengthening the ceasefire regime (see above, Dec. 2016) in the nearly six-year-old Syrian conflict ended Feb. 16 in Astana with the adoption of a document to formalise monitoring of the December 29, 2016, ceasefire agreement (see above). The document will guide the activities of a joint operational group to be formed by Russia, Turkey and Iran that was agreed to be set up during the earlier meeting in January in Astana. The document is also meant to guide confidence-building measures among the opposing sides.[80]

March 2017 and May 2017 Astana talks: De-escalation zones[edit]

The third round of meetings in Astana held between 14 and 15 March yielded further agreement by all parties to the existing ceasefire agreement.[81] As a result of these talks, Iran joined Turkey and Russia as a guarantor state.[81]

On 4 May 2017, at the fourth round of the Astana talks, representatives of Russia, Iran, and Turkey signed a memorandum to establish four "de-escalation zones" in Syria. The largest one of those included the Idlib Governorate and adjoining districts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia Governorates; the other three zones were set up in the northern rebel-controlled parts of the Homs Governorate, the rebel-controlled eastern Ghouta, and along the Jordan–Syria border. In those areas, combat operations would be halted as of 6 May 2017; it also envisaged suspension of flights of military aircraft in those areas, as well as the creation of conditions for humanitarian access, medical assistance, the return of displaced civilians to their homes and the restoration of damaged infrastructure. The memorandum was concluded for six months and could be extended automatically.[82][83]

The deal was not signed by Syrian government or rebel groups; rebel representatives rejected it because it left too many loopholes for the Syrian government to continue bombing civilian areas.[84] The Democratic Union Party stated that the ceasefire zones were "dividing Syria up on a sectarian basis".[85]

Astana talks, July 2017[edit]

The fifth round of peace talks initially planned for 5–7 July 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan were moved to 12–15 July 2017.[86] The Astana Process has the support of the UN's Staffan de Mistura who said the Astana talks are making "clear progress" to reducing violence in Syria.[87] The Southern Front boycotted these talks.[88]

As a precursor to these peace talks, on 9 July 2017 at 0900 GMT, an American-Russian-Jordanian brokered ceasefire commenced, though on July 14, opposition groups participating in the Quneitra offensive rejected the ceasefire, with clashes resuming across Southern Syria.[89][90][91] Besides minor violations from all sides involved, as of 15 July, the ceasefire has held.[88]

Astana talks, September 2017[edit]

On 14 September 2017, representatives of Iran, Russia and Turkey in Astana agreed on the implementation of a fourth "de-escalation zone", in the northern governorate of Idlib.[92][93] Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov affirmed Kazakhstan's commitment to serving as a neutral venue for continued peace talks.[94]

Astana talks, October 2017[edit]

The seventh round of the Astana Process on Syrian peace started in Astana with support of both Russia and Iran.[95] The talks maintained previous Astana Process agreements, addressed exchange of detainees, POWs and missing persons. The guarantor states—Russia, Turkey, and Iran—affirmed consensus that a political solution under UN Security Council resolution 2254 should be found.[96]

Astana talks, December 2017[edit]

The eighth round of the Astana Process on Syrian peace started in Astana.[97] The talks aimed at ending the nearly seven-year-long conflict in the country, with the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus at the table.[98] The head of the Syrian Arab Republic delegation called for the "immediate and unconditional withdrawal of foreign forces from Syrian territory" including Turkish and US forces.[99]

Sochi talks, January 2018[edit]

In January 2018 Russia convened the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, in which 1,500 delegates participated.[100]

Astana talks, March 2018[edit]

The ninth round of the Astana Process on Syrian peace took place on 16 March 2018.[101] The trilateral ministerial meeting on Syria was to include Iran, Russia and Turkey.[102]

Idlib memorandum, September 2018[edit]

On 17 September 2018 the Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reached an agreement to create a buffer zone in Idlib.[103]

Northern Syria Buffer Zone agreement, August 2019[edit]

On 7 August 2019, the United States and Turkey reached a deal, which would set up a new demilitarized buffer zone in northern Syria to preempt a potential Turkish invasion of SDF-held Northern Syria.[104]

Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva, October 2019–present[edit]

In September 2019, Geir Otto Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria since 31 October 2018,[105] called for prisoner exchanges as a confidence-building measure between Syrian authorities, opposition groups and civil society groups to take place prior to a planned October 2019 constitution-drafting committee meeting in Geneva. The committee is planned to include 50 people each from government, opposition and civil society, with 15 from each group to work specifically on drafting proposals for a constitution.[106]

The Syrian Constitutional Committee officially convened for the first time on 30 October 2019 at the United Nations Office at Geneva.[107]

The committee's third session of negotiations, among the 45-member small body, with 15 members from the government, opposition, and civil society, respectively, started in late August 2020. Pedersen stated that he had "received a 'strong signal of support' from 'key international players' and from "all sides in the Constitutional Committee" for the continuation of the peace process. Hadi al-Bahra, one of the opposition leaders, and Ahmad Kuzbari, on behalf of the Syrian government, were co-chairs of the session.[108]

Nur-Sultan meeting, December 2019[edit]

The delegations of Turkey, Iran, and Russia arrived in Kazakhstan's capital, Nur-Sultan (renamed from Astana in March 2019), on 10 December 2019 for two days of trilateral talks known as the Astana process.[109]

The talks ended without any definitive ceasefire agreement, reportedly due to the anti–government side's refusal to accept new Russian terms regarding control of the Idlib province.[110]

Astana Process July 2021[edit]

The 16th International High-Level Meeting on Syria within the Astana Process to be held in Nur-Sultan on July 7-8, 2021, includes high representative observers from the UN, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.[111]

See also[edit]


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