A third round of talks aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria has officially gotten underway in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Russia’s Sputnik news agency said the talks kicked off with a meeting between the United Nations (UN) and Russian delegations on Tuesday.
The Astana talks, which have been going on in parallel with UN-brokered talks in the Swiss city of Geneva, have been an initiative of guarantor states Iran, Russia, and Turkey. The first round of the talks took place on January 23-24 and the second on February 15-16.
The Syrian government and the country’s opposition comprise the main sides to the talks, while Iran, Russia, and Turkey mediate the process. Tehran and Moscow are allied with Damascus, whereas Turkey acts on behalf of the Syrian opposition.
Delegations started arriving for the negotiations in Astana on Monday.
The Iranian delegation is headed by Hossein Jaberi Ansari, the deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs.
The armed opposition in Syria has said it will not be participating in the talks because of what it says is Russia’s failure to halt its airstrikes in support of the Syrian government and the Syrian army’s alleged violations of a ceasefire.
Russia has been carrying out an aerial campaign in Syria on a request from Damascus since September 2015. Together with Iran and Turkey, Russia facilitated a nationwide ceasefire in the Arab country late last year.
According to Sputnik, the United States has dispatched a second representative to the current round of the talks, an upgrade from its previous level of participation in the negotiations.
A Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman said that apart from US Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol, who has participated in the previous rounds of the Astana talks, another representative will be present from Washington. The Kazakh spokesman did not explain who the new representative was.
Previously, Krol would join the discussions at the Kazakh government’s invitation as an observer. There has been no indication that the additional envoy partaking in the latest round would assume any expanded role.
Conflict began in Syria in 2011, when foreign states opposing the Syrian administration started pouring arms and militants into the Arab country. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict so far.