WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Aleksandr Lavrentiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy on Syria, on Friday said there would be Kurdish representation at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress to be held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi next month.
Lavrentiev spoke on the second and final day of talks on Syria sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. This marked the eighth round of Astana talks, which are attended by the Syrian regime, as well as a 20-member group from the Syrian opposition.
In deference to Turkish objections, Lavrentiev explained, the Sochi conference would not include the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political arm of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main US-backed force fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Lavrentiev was vague about the Kurdish contingent at Sochi, only affirming that the meeting would include “quite a few” Kurdish representatives.
The Sochi negotiations are to be held Jan. 29-30, 2018.
The Russian-sponsored talks threaten to eclipse the US-backed Geneva talks, presided over by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
The last round of such talks, held earlier this month, ended without progress, as the Syrian representative walked out after two days. De Mistura acknowledged that it “was not a good meeting.”
De Mistura met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Thursday and said the Syrian talks should proceed “one step at a time,” even as he would not comment on the Sochi talks, AFP reported.
Putin is personally involved with the Syrian negotiations and spoke by telephone to the leaders of the two most important countries supporting the Syrian opposition: King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
By contrast, Washington has left the issue to lower-ranking officials. During Barack Obama’s tenure, Secretary of State John Kerry was actively engaged in the Syrian talks, but under President Donald Trump, senior officials seem minimally involved in those negotiations.
On Thursday, Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS, explained to reporters that the US had discussed the Sochi conference with Moscow.
The Russians “have said that Sochi would be kind of a gathering of Syrian figures,” McGurk said. “What happens in Sochi would feed directly into Geneva.”
“If that’s the case, that’s something that might actually support the Geneva process,” he explained. “What we would not support and what would have absolutely no legitimacy would be a parallel process that’s parallel entirely to Geneva.”
US officials seem to believe that the promise of large-scale aid for Syrian reconstruction from American allies, if not Washington itself, provides important leverage.
“We want to settle the Syrian civil war through a constitutional reform process leading to UN-supervised elections in Geneva,” McGurk affirmed. “That is the key to unlocking reconstruction assistance in Syria writ large.”
However, speaking earlier this month, Gen. Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA and the NSA, suggested that the outcome McGurk described was unlikely to materialize.
Hayden criticized US diplomacy for failing to address the ramifications of Syria’s nearly seven-year-long civil war, as well as the fight against IS.
He sees Moscow, along with its Iranian ally, securing important gains in Syria. “I fear that we have quietly allowed ourselves to outsource the political solution,” Hayden said, “to the Russian Federation.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany