Syrian opposition to draw up strategy on Feb 6 in Ankara

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Syrian opposition representatives will have talks with Turkish officials in Ankara on Feb. 6 in order to set a course for the upcoming talks in Astana and Geneva, a Turkish official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Hürriyet Daily News.

The second round of Syria talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana is expected to take place on Feb. 8, between the regime and opposition fractions with the participation of guarantor states Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups recently came together in Astana on Jan. 23 and 24 with the participation of Turkish, Russian and Iranian diplomats, as well as the United Nations’ special representative for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. 

Moscow, Ankara and Tehran agreed to monitor government and rebel compliance with the shaky cease-fire in Syria.

A joint communiqué released on the aftermath of the talks underlined the need for the continuation of the nationwide cease-fire in Syria and noted that talks would be held once more under the auspices of the U.N. in Geneva on Feb. 8.

But the convention in Geneva was postponed to Feb. 20, according to de Mistura, in order to allow a cease-fire to take hold and to give the opposition time to present a united front. 

De Mistura said at a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the postponement would help bolster preparations for the talks aimed at ending the nearly six-year war.

“We want to give a chance both to the government to become seriously engaged in discussions and the opposition … to actually be able to be given a chance to come with one unified opposition,” De Mistura told reporters after the meeting.

“If the cease-fire becomes as solid as we hope, that will only help the Syria talks,” said the envoy.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week announced they would be delayed, without providing reasons or a new date.

De Mistura warned that if the opposition failed to agree on the composition of the delegation by Feb. 8, he would be selecting the representatives from the various groups, who will come to the peace table.

The Syrian opposition has been divided over representation in the talks.

“If by the 8th of February, the opposition will not be ready to come up with a unified group, I will have to actually select the delegation in order to make sure that it can be as inclusive as possible,” he said.

Russia says Trump should be more specific on Syria safe zones plan

Meanwhile, Lavrov said on Feb. 1 that U.S. President Donald Trump should be more specific about his proposal to set up safe zones in Syria and said attempts to implement a similar policy in Libya had been tragic. 

Speaking at a news conference in Abu Dhabi with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Lavrov said he hoped Russia could discuss the issue with the U.S. State Department once it had drawn up more detailed plans for the safe zones. 

Lavrov said he did not think, from what he knew so far, that Trump was proposing to roll out safe zones in the same way as it had been done in Libya in 2011. 

Al Nahyan also said the idea of safe zones in Syria would be welcomed if they were to be temporary and for humanitarian purposes under international auspices.

Lavrov also said that Syria’s return to the Arab League would allow the organization to play a role in finding a political solution to the country’s conflict.

“The League could play a more important, more effective role if the Syrian government was part of the organization,” Lavrov, whose country is a key ally of the Damascus regime, said.

He said Syria was a “legitimate” member of the United Nations and yet “cannot take part in discussions inside the Arab League.” 

But Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who was also present at the press conference, ruled out an early return of Syria to the Cairo-based organization.

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