Astana Format Talks Only Sincere Peace Process On Syrian Conflict - Virginia State Senator

WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 10th December, 2019) The Astana-format negotiations process is the only genuine approach to solving the Syrian conflict and should be continued to improve the situation in the middle Eastern country, Virginia State Senator Richard Black told Sputnik.

"I think the only sincere process is the one that the Russian government has organized - the Astana process. I think it will continue to add to the situation and improve the situation but again, ultimately, I think, the matter will be determined on the battlefield," Black, who personally met with President Bashar Assad during visits to Syria in 2016 and 2018, said.

A great deal has been accomplished through the Astana process, Black added, when Russia, Turkey and Iran worked together, unlike other formats.

"There has been a great deal of forward motion," Black said. "Whenever the West tries to convene these international conventions and hold them in Geneva, nothing happens. They are simply an effort to trick the Syrian people and to undermine the progress being made on the battlefield."

The state senator said he expects a gradual erosion of the areas that are held by the Kurdish rump government and by the al-Qaeda terrorist group (banned in Russia) in Idlib province.

"I think there is fighting that's going on in Idlib province right now and there are gradual gains being made by the Syrian army there. At the same time, the Syrian government is reasserting authority in more and more areas that are controlled by the Kurds," he said. "I think it's going to happen a little bit at a time, I don't think it's going to happen overnight. It may take several years before the country is completely unified again."

Since 2011, Syria has suffered an armed conflict between various opposition groups, including terrorist organizations, and the government led by President Bashar Assad. The Astana talks under the mediation of Russia, Iran and Turkey were launched to find a political solution to the conflict. In particular, the talks resulted in a landmark ceasefire agreement with the opposition and the establishment of four de-escalation zones. Since the launch of the Astana format, nearly all terrorists have been cleared out of Syria. This has encouraged the beginning of a political settlement process, the return of refugees and reconstruction efforts.

Amid these talks, in January 2018, a meeting of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress convened in Sochi, culminating in an agreement to form the Constitutional Committee. The body, which consists of three equal groups representing the government, opposition and civil society of Syria, gathered for its inaugural meeting on October 30 of this year in Geneva.

Black said he believes the work done by Russia, including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the other Astana guarantors have been helpful for Syria.

"I do think that those efforts [Astana talks] should be continued," he said. "I think that President Putin and Minister Lavrov have done very good work for the Syrian people and really for the cause of peace. And I think the Iranians have been quite helpful. I think the Turks are always difficult but with this process even they have occasionally done something that has been helpful."

When asked to comment on the Syrian Constitutional Committee, Black pointed out that the existing Syrian constitution could serve as an example for the other countries in the region.

"I have read the Syrian constitution. The constitution guarantees greater women's rights and greater religious freedom than any other Arab nation has," Black explained. "Syria's existing Constitution should serve as a model for all Arab nations to emulate. It's interesting that Saudi Arabia for many years has demanded revisions to the Syrian constitution. But guess what, Saudi Arabia doesn't even have a constitution. So, it's ironic that they are demanding that another country change its constitution."

Black said he does not think the committee to rewrite the Syrian constitution will succeed. The committee is made up of 150 members, the state senator added, including 50 Syrian government representatives and 50 who represent the terrorists.

"Trying to arrive at an agreement is like to mix oil and water. The terrorists want Sharia law, while the Syrian people want freedom... And since Sharia calls for killing infidels and selling their women as slaves, I just don't see how you can compromise that with the freedom that is guaranteed to the Syrian people by their own constitution," Black concluded.