Russia invites US to Syria talks in Astana

Moscow, Jan 19 (IANS) Russia has already invited the US to take part in the upcoming talks on Syria, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the media on Thursday.

“As I said yesterday (Wednesday), we have already invited (the US),” Lavrov said.

The international meeting on the Syrian settlement will be held in Kazakh capital Astana on Monday, January 23.

“We think it would be the right thing to invite the representatives of the UN and the new US administration to the meeting,” Lavrov had said on Wednesday, at a press conference summing up the results of Russian foreign policy in 2016.

Some armed opposition groups have already decided to attend peace talks in Astana.

The discussions, intend to build on a nationwide ceasefire that has largely held despite escalating violence across several battlefronts in recent days.

Thursday’s announcement came despite recent statements by Iran, which strongly objects to the US participation in the talks.

“We are opposed to a US presence (in Astana). We have not invited them (US), and we are against their presence,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was earlier quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency.

Russia, however, hopes that the incoming Trump administration will accept the invitation.

“We’re counting on the new (US) administration accepting this invitation and being represented by experts on any level they consider possible. It will be the first official contact during which we could begin discussing stepping up the efficiency of fighting terrorism in Syria,” Lavrov said.

The truce, which began in Syria on December 30, to pave the way for the new peace talks, excludes the IS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which changed its name from Al Nusra Front after breaking ties with Al Qaeda last year.

Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally, set the new diplomatic effort in motion after Syrian rebels suffered a major defeat last month by losing the rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo.

Pro-democracy protests in March 2011 escalated and the country descended into civil war as rebel groups were formed to fight government, the conflict is now more than just a battle as it has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against Shias, and drawn in regional and world powers, including Russia and the US.