Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Russia, Iran and Turkey sign Syria deal

SKEPTICISM:The US was cautious over the plan to establish de-escalation zones, saying that it had concerns over Tehran’s involvement as a so-called ‘guarantor’

AFP, ASTANA

Russia, Iran and Turkey on Thursday signed an agreement to establish four safe zones in Syria that the UN described as a promising step to wind down the brutal six-year war.

However, the US gave an extremely cautious welcome, citing concerns over Iran’s role as a guarantor, even as it expressed hope that the deal could set the stage for a settlement.

Several members of a rebel delegation left the room shouting in protest as the signing ceremony got under way in the Kazakh capital, Astana, angry at regime ally Iran, one reporter said.

The plan for the “de-escalation areas” was discussed on Tuesday by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a telephone conversation.

The agreement provides for a ceasefire, a ban on all flights, rapid deliveries of humanitarian aid to the designated areas and the return of refugees.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “encouraged” by the breakthrough, adding that it would be “crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians.”

Russia and Iran, which back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the war, and Turkey, a supporter of rebel forces, hope to build on a ceasefire deal they reached in December last year.

The Syrian government and rebel delegations are not signatories to the deal.

“We are not supporting this agreement. It is an agreement between the three countries,” rebel spokesman Usama Abu Zeid said. “We do not at all agree that Iran ... is a guarantor of this accord.”

UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, who was in Astana as an observer, described the agreement as “an important, promising, positive step in the right direction” toward de-escalation.

A working group is to be set up within two weeks to resolve technical issues, with the three countries agreeing to establish the four areas by June 4.

The areas include key territory held by forces opposing al-Assad.

The first zone includes the whole of Idlib Governorate, along with certain parts of neighboring Latakia, Aleppo and Hama provinces. The second is to encompass certain parts in the north of Homs Governorate, while the third is to be comprised of some areas of Eastern Ghouta, outside of Damascus. The fourth zone is to include parts of the Deraa and Quneitra provinces in southern Syria, according to a memorandum seen by reporters.

De Mistura said the deal would be quickly put to the test and that success on the ground could pave the way to a new round of political talks in Geneva, Switzerland, later this month.

“There will be a period not longer than two weeks in which all this will be seriously put to the test and we want that test to succeed,” he said.

In Washington, the US Department of State, which had dispatched an observer to the talks, said it appreciated Russian and Turkish efforts, but called into doubt Iran’s role.

“We continue to have concerns about the Astana agreement, including the involvement of Iran as a so-called ‘guarantor,’” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “Iran’s activities in Syria have only contributed to the violence, not stopped it, and Iran’s unquestioning support for the al-Assad regime has perpetuated the misery of ordinary Syrians.”

“We nonetheless hope that this arrangement can contribute to a de-escalation of violence, end the suffering of the Syrian people and set the stage for a political settlement of the conflict,” she said.

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