Astana Talks Successful in Reducing Violence in Syria: US Analyst

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A California-based political analyst hailed the effectiveness of recent negotiations among Iran, Russia, and Turkey in the Kazakh capital of Astana on the Syrian crisis, saying the talks “have encouraged the de-confliction” in the war-torn country.

Astana Talks Successful in Reducing Violence in Syria: US Analyst

“It seems the Astana negotiations have resulted in a decline in fighting and violence in some areas so that is a good thing,” Rick Sterling from San Francisco Bay said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.

“There has also been a reduction in violence in Idlib.” he said, adding, “To the extent the Astana talks have encouraged the de-confliction, it is surely a good thing.”

Sterling is a retired aerospace engineer who now writes about international issues. As a member of the Syria Solidarity Movement and a prominent analyst, his works and interviews have appeared in media outlets around the world.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Tasnim: According to media reports, Syrian rebels recently said that the US has increased its arms supplies to them in order to prevent Iraq's Hashd al-Sha'abi, also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), from creating a supply route between Iraq and Syria. Earlier on Tuesday, a leader of one of the rebel groups operating under the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said that there has been an increase in foreign military support. “There's no way we can let them (the PMU) open the Baghdad-Damascus highway," said Tlass Salameh. A commander of another militant group operating with the FSA also announced that since earlier in the month a steady flow of weapons had been arriving at their base. What is your assessment of these developments?

Sterling: This is a dangerous new development but it is in keeping with the goal of the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to disrupt the connections between Iraq, Iran, and Syria.  The US is escalating interference in that region near Al Tanf on the highway from Baghdad to Damascus. There are also reports of a long-term contract between Baghdad and an American corporation called the "Olive Group" which includes the notorious Blackwater.  The contract will include construction, highway toll checkpoints and "security".  Blackwater is so discredited and notorious they have changed their name twice and are now known as "Academi". It appears the true goal is for enemies of the Iraqi and Syrian people to control this vital highway.  The US is putting in more weaponry plus more US troops in this area because they want to prevent the sovereign states Iraq and Syria from controlling their own territory and roadways.

Tasnim: As you know, last month, Iran, Russia, and Turkey agreed on a proposal to establish de-escalation zones in Syria, following diplomatic talks in the Kazakh city of Astana. The largest of the four de-escalation zones is in northern Syria and includes Idlib province and adjoining districts of Latakia, Aleppo, and Hama with a total population of over one million. The zones were intended to halt conflicts in specific areas between Syrian forces and rebels, and would potentially be policed by foreign troops. In your opinion, has the agreement been successful in reducing conflicts in the zones? What do you think about ongoing talks and consultations between Tehran, Moscow, and Ankara on the Syrian crisis? Have they been fruitful?

Sterling: I believe Syria disagrees with a proposal for "foreign troops" to be involved in policing the agreement. Why? Because the entry of foreign troops is usually a step toward the loss of sovereignty.  It seems the Astana negotiations have resulted in a decline in fighting and violence in some areas so that is a good thing. The Syrian reconciliation process continues with significant departures of extremists from Homs and outer Damascus in the last month. There has also been a reduction in violence in Idlib.  To the extent the Astana talks have encouraged the de-confliction, it is surely a good thing. The process needs to continue and there needs to be much more pressure on the "rebels" to start negotiating seriously. The next round of negotiations is scheduled for mid-June so there is not much time.

Tasnim: How do you see Turkey’s role in the talks as a previous backer of the rebels in Syria?

Sterling: It is good to have Turkey involved because they are a key player.  The problem is: Will Turkey under its current leadership act with sincerity and honesty?  They previously supported ISIS as well as Nusra and Al-Qaeda. Turkey has been the base of operations for nearly all the violent groups trying to overthrow Damascus.  After the June 2015 election with a strong showing by the HDP and CHP parties, there was a hope that a moderate government would take over and end Turkey's collusion with terrorism, extremism, and aggression against Syria.  Unfortunately, violence and political manipulations led to the subsequent re-election of the AKP and now the new Presidential system giving Erdogan even more power. Will Turkey participate honestly in Astana and genuinely seek an end to the violence in Syria? We hope so but it would be a surprise.

Tasnim: Measures taken by Washington up to now indicate that it has been seeking to destabilize the Arab country by arming the terrorists there and provoking them to mount operations in the country. Washington is, in fact, orchestrating plots against the successful anti-terror cooperation among Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus. What is your take on that?

Sterling: As the Native Americans said in the 1800's, Washington speaks with a forked tongue. They say one thing but do another. They make agreements but then violate them. If Washington truly wants to end the bloodshed in Syria, why are they escalating the shipment of weapons?  If Washington believes in Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity as they claim, why is the US air coalition escalating their attacks and killing ever more civilians in eastern Syria despite Syrian government demands to stop?  The US axis is not only escalating in the south; they are starting a new "Northern Front" operating out of Turkey. These actions are in clear violation of international law and the UN Charter. There needs to be more pressure to stop the violence.  The Astana and Geneva negotiations need to start making real progress but that will require the violent extremists and countries supporting them to stop the aggression and start negotiating with sincerity.  They need to give up their demands for "regime change" and accept the will of the Syrian people.

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