New round of Astana talks to be held mid-May


The ninth round of Astana talks on Syria will take place in the middle of May, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday.

The Iranian, Russian and Turkish foreign ministers will head the summit, Lavrov said at a news conference following the meeting in Moscow with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts.

"We discussed the preparation to the ninth international meeting on Syria in Astana which we will hold in the middle of May," he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif added that this meeting would be devoted to political and humanitarian issues.

"The Astana process is being promoted by all participating countries. Soon, in the middle of May, three countries will hold a meeting on political and humanitarian issues", he said.

In addition, a working group session will discuss the liberation of hostages as well as the exchange of prisoners and of the bodies of the deceased, Zarif added.

All three ministers underlined that the Astana process was the only format that reduced tensions in Syria.

'Turn Syria on the path to peace'

"This is the only process that[…] let decrease the tension to stop the fighting and to turn Syria on the path to peace. Its success is absolutely clear," Zarif said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: "This is the only format that took concrete steps towards peace."

The Astana peace talks were launched on Jan. 23-24, 2017, with the aim of putting an end to violence and improving the humanitarian situation in war-torn Syria.

Kazakhstan hosted eight meetings attended by representatives from the guarantors states — Russia, Turkey, and Iran — that brokered a cease-fire in Syria in December 2016, leading to the Astana peace talks running parallel to the Geneva talks.

Last year’s Sochi summit discussed progress made in the Astana peace talks and changes in de-escalation zones across Syria.

"There are some parties that want to weaken the Astana process but we shouldn't let it explode," he said.

"Those who criticize the Astana process and the results of the Sochi congress pursue different purposes. They try to prove that they decide everything in this world today. Unfortunately for them this time has long gone," he said.

He said Syria’s territorial integrity will remain under threat as long as a terrorist organization controls the country’s territories.

Non-visa regime between Russia, Turkey

"YPG/PKK is a terrorist organization. This terrorist organization is also a threat to our security […], so these terrorist organizations should be removed, like Daesh, from Syrian territories," he said.

"We as Turkey cleared 4,000 square kilometerNons (1,544 square miles) of terrorists with Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch, now we all need to help our Syrian brothers and sisters to return to their homes, which they were forced to leave,“ he added.

Separately, Russia and Turkey agreed to return to a non-visa regime for two categories of Turkish citizens — service passports holders and international truck drivers, Lavrov said.

"We are planning to expand the categories that will be granted non-visa regime and we agreed to move forward gradually toward this purpose [restoration of non-visa regime]," he said.

Cavusoglu confirmed that the two countries were interested in lifting visa limitations.

"Of course, visa-free travel or travel with ID cards needs our cooperation on some security issues. On this issue, there is already a determination and commitment on both sides," he said.


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