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Syria diplomatic talks: A timeline

MWC News tracks the diplomatic initiatives aimed at resolving the six-year war in Syria.

Syrian chief negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari

As representatives from the Syrian government and armed opposition groups meet in the Kazakh capital Astana for the sixth round of the Astana talks, MWC News tracks the international initiatives aimed at resolving the six-year Syrian conflict through diplomacy and negotiations.

The fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a transitional government have been the main sticking points in negotiations between the two sides. 

During the five years of diplomatic talks, the government delegation and armed opposition groups have traded barbs, staged walk-outs, and vehemently disagreed on proposed resolutions. 

More than 465,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, more than a million injured and over 12 million Syrians - half the country's prewar population - have been displaced from their homes.

Though there have been several international initiatives that aimed to bring an end to the war, the two main diplomatic tracks have been the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, and the talks in Astana, facilitated by Russia and Turkey, who back opposing sides in the war. 

The talks in Astana are meant to complement the broader political negotiations in Geneva, but have turned out to be more effective. 

March 2012: Six-point peace plan

  • Kofi Annan, the joint United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, submitted on March 16 a six-point peace plan to the UN Security Council
  • It also called on all parties to stop the fighting and work with the UN in an “inclusive Syrian-led political process” to install an effective international supervision mechanism

June 2012: Geneva I

  • Based on Anna's peace plan, US and Russia officials, along with other major powers, meet in Geneva, Switzerland and agree on a road map for peace, known as the Geneva Communique
  • The document envisions the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers that would oversee elections and put the country on the path to democracy

September 2012: Lakhdar Brahimi replaces Kofi Annan as envoy

  • Annan resigns the previous month due to his peace plan's inability to secure a lasting ceasefire

January 2013: Assad’s proposed peace plan

  • The Syrian president offers his own peace plan that includes a national reconciliation conference, a new government and constitution
  • Syrian opposition rejects the peace initiative

September 2013:

  • UN Security Council resolution says the Syrian government must dismantle its chemical weapons arsenal

January 2014: Geneva II

  • Talks collapse as UN fails to break the deadlock between the opposition and the government.
  • The UN blames the Syrian government’s refusal to entertain the opposition’s demands.

May 2014:

  • Lakhdar Brahimi resigns, citing impossibility to forge an effective international response to the conflict
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appoints Staffan de Mistura as Special Envoy for Syria on July 10 

June 2014: Assad wins presidential elections

  • Syrian opposition and international backers denounced the election as a farce
  • A few weeks later, the last of Syria’s declared chemical weapons shipped out of the country for destruction

November 2015: Vienna agreement 

  • All twenty members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meet in Vienna and produce an agreement on the need to bring the Syrian government and the opposition into negotiations under UN auspices
  • Members affirm their commitment to enforcing the 2012 Geneva Communique for political transition and a nationwide ceasefire 

December 2015: UNSC adopts resolution 2254

  • The document becomes the basis for negotiations and serves as a framework for political transition 
  • 2254 outlines the UN's support for a Syrian-led political process that "establishes credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance and sets a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution" within six months 
  • The resolution also recommends "free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months" under UN supervision 

February 2016: Geneva III

  • Talks are suspended after three days following disagreements between the opposition and the government over the priority of humanitarian issues such as releasing prisoners.

April 2016: Geneva IV

  • Syrian opposition walks out over the escalation in violence on the ground, lack of progress on humanitarian and prisoner issues.

December 2016: Russia-Turkey ceasefire

  • Turkey and Russia broker a nation-wide ceasefire which is agreed upon by the Syrian government and the armed opposition 

January 2017: Astana I

  • Sponsors of the talks Russia, Turkey and Iran, agree to set up a trilateral monitoring body to enforce the ceasefire that came into effect on December 30
  • Representatives of the armed opposition sit face-to-face with a government delegation for the first time
  • Neither opposition nor government delegation sign the agreement

February 2017:

Astana II 

  • Ends with the adoption of a document to formalise monitoring of the December ceasefire
  • Parties also agree to continue discussions of a mechanism to exchange corpses and prisoners, including women and children

Geneva V

  • De Mistura says warring sides agree to future negotiations based on UNSC 2254 which lays the foundation for a political transition based on accountable governance, a new constitution and UN-supervised elections within 18 months.

March 2017: Astana III

  • Opposition refuses to attend talks, accuses government of failing to uphold the ceasefire declared in December

May 2017:

Astana IV

  • Russia, Turkey and Iran agree on plan for "de-escalation zones" in rebel-held territory
  • The plan calls for the cessation of hositilies between government and opposition fighters in four safe zones to bring relief for Syrian civilians 
  • Opposition delegation suspends their participation citing government bombardment of rebel-held areas

Geneva VI

  • Talks collapse after four days with no detailed discussions of items on the agenda.

July 2017: 

Astana V

  • Russia, Turkey and Iran fail to hammer out details over boundaries and policing of four safe zones previously agreed

Geneva VII

  • Talks conclude with no breakthrough
  • UN says Syrian government not willing to discuss political transition

September 2017: Astana VI

  • Russia, Turkey and Iran agree to set up de-escalation zones in Syria for six months, which may be extended in the future.
  • The zones will include, fully or partly, Eastern Ghouta, the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama.

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