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Iran makes pitch for expansion of Syria ceasefire

LONDON

A partial ceasefire in southwestern Syria agreed between the United States and Russia should be expanded to all of Syria if it is to be successful, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday as Syria’s government and opposition is scheduled to meet late on Monday for a seventh round of UN-sponsored peace talks.

The United States, Russia and Jordan announced a ceasefire and “de-escalation agreement” for the southwest on Friday and starting on Sunday after a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg.

“The agreement can be fruitful if it is expanded to all of Syria and includes all the area that we discussed in Astana talks for de-escalating the tension,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

In Astana peace talks, Russia, Turkey and Iran tried to finalise an agreement on creating four de-escalation zones in Syria but failed to reach an agreement.

Russia and Iran are the main international backers of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad while Washington supports some of the rebel groups fighting to topple him.

“Iran is seeking Syria’s sovereignty and security so a ceasefire cannot be limited to a certain location…No agreement would be successful without taking the realities on the ground into account,” Qasemi added.

Previous similar ceasefires have failed to hold for long and it was not clear how much the actual combatants – Assad’s government forces and the main Syrian rebel armies in the southwest – are committed to this latest effort.

Qasemi said Iran has been fully informed by the Russians on the ceasefire deal but added that they see some “ambiguities in the deal mainly related to the recent American measures in Syria”.

The talks in Geneva open after a ceasefire took effect in three provinces in southern Syria on Sunday, with a monitor reporting that the region was mostly quiet despite scattered violations.

The ceasefire was brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan, the latest agreement reached outside the Geneva framework.

The peace process in the Swiss city has been increasingly overshadowed by a separate track organised by Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey.

In principle, the new round of Geneva negotiations will focus on four so-called “baskets”: a new constitution, governance, elections and combating “terrorism”.

As he arrived for the talks on Monday, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said: “We will work very hard.”

The last talks ended in May with little progress towards ending a war that has killed more than 320,000 people since it began in March 2011.

De Mistura said after that round that “important gaps remain… on major issues,” and that time constraints had stymied progress.

Agencies