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Astana Talks: Iran Reaffirms Commitment to Syria Peace

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated during his meeting with U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Moscow on February 16 that clashes between the Syrian government and moderate opposition forces had fully stopped.

The talks are set to begin Thursday and, like an earlier round in January, will be sponsored by rebel backer Turkey and regime allies Russian Federation and Iran.

"In theory, it is a complement to a still-live ongoing Geneva process", said Sam Heller, a non-resident fellow at The Century Foundation think-tank.

The key opposition High Negotiations Committee has announced a 21-member delegation to Geneva, including 10 rebel representatives.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Kazakhstan's foreign minister said the talks would focus on mechanisms to monitor Syria's ceasefire and to hold violators accountable.

Rebel spokesman Yehya al-Aridi told AFP on Wednesday the opposition was participating, but as a "smaller" delegation than the one it sent for the talks in Astana last month, when it refused to negotiate directly with Damascus.

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A first set of talks in Astana in January saw the rebels refuse to talk directly to the government and did not result in a significant breakthrough.

"We rely on the stance Russian Federation has always been sticking to: it is up to the Syrian people to decide the future of their homeland, and this is applicable to absolutely all aspects of the current situation", he said.

Attendance at the Astana talks is more uncertain, though Syria's government is being represented by Jaafari who has already arrived in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan hosted talks between rebels and the Syrian government in January to pave the way for the resumption of the United Nations process, which has been on hold since last April.

Issam al-Rais, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army's Southern Front, said mainstream rebel factions were also taking part in the fighting, in response to persistent government violations of the December 30 cease-fire.

The discussions were to take place on February 15 and 16.



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