Iran, Russia and Turkey agreed earlier today to establish a trilateral mechanism to enforce the fragile cessation of hostilities in Syria. After a two-day meeting in Kazakhstan sponsored by Moscow, the trio issued a joint statement that called for “a political process based on the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 2254” to end the Syrian civil war. The three parties also emphasized that “there is an urgent necessity to step up efforts to jumpstart the negotiation process” and supported “the willingness of the armed opposition groups to participate in the next round of negotiations” under the UN auspices in Geneva next month.
While the Astana talks provided a platform to foster dialogue between Damascus and opposition groups, the success of Russia-led peace talks remains in doubt.
First, the Syrian opposition has expressed dissatisfaction with the statement. "Iran is spearheading in a number of areas military offensives and leading to forcible displacements of thousands of Syrians and causing bloodletting. This communique legitimizes this role," one opposition representative to the Astana talks said. The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia had also declared that it would not be bound by any decision made at the Astana meeting because it was not involved in the process.
Second, although the joint statement urges “all members of the international community to support the political process,” Iran opposes the inclusion of the United States and key regional players in the process. Tehran’s goals in Syria are even not entirely in line with those of its close ally Russia. Moscow, for example, appears willing to support the transfer of power from President Bashar al-Assad as part of a transition process, but Iranian leaders see any attempt to remove Assad as a red line.
Indeed, as soon as the Astana talks concluded, Ali Akbar Velyati, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said that the Syria meeting affirmed Assad’s legitimacy. “The Astana meeting demonstrated that all parties, either Turkey or the groups following it, and even countries not present there (in the talks) have somehow recognized the Syrian government’s legitimacy, directly and indirectly,” Velayati, who is also the head of the Strategic Research Center of Iran's Expediency Council, told reporters in Tehran. He also noted that one should not expect the talks to end all hostilities in Syria.
Finally, Iran controls all powerful militia groups fighting in Syria and can undermine any ceasefire agreement that it sees counter to its interests. Recently, the Syrian Army and Iran-backed militia forces have repeatedly violated Russia-sponsored ceasefire across Syria. Moreover, as Ankara and Moscow were working on Astana meeting, Iranian leaders were urging Damascus to continue military operations. “Syria’s enemies must not be allowed to tactically exploit the opportunity of ceasefire and political talks to reinforce, rearm and fund terrorist groups and rebuild their operational capabilities,” Ali Shamkhani, a top advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, told visiting Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis in Tehran.