Syria Ceasefire a Major Achievement

Top Iranian and Russian diplomats agreed to hold regular consultations on peace talks planned to be held between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Kazakhstan next month
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, held talks on Syria in Moscow on Dec. 20.  Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, held talks on Syria in Moscow on Dec. 20.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed a Russia-Turkey brokered nationwide ceasefire in Syria, which took effect on Thursday night, in the latest bid to end nearly six years of crisis inside the Arab country.

"Ceasefire in Syria is a major achievement. Let's build on it by tackling the roots of extremist terror," Zarif tweeted on Thursday.

The conflict, which pits the Syrian Army against foreign-backed militants fighting to bring down the government, has become the worst calamity in the 21th century, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and triggering a major refugee crisis.

Moscow, a long-time Damascus friend, started lending air power in the counter-terror push in September 2015, while Turkey backs the other side of the conflict.

Tehran is another ally of the Syrian government, which provides its troops with advisory services.

The agreement, the third serious attempt at a nationwide ceasefire this year, was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

At a meeting with Russian defense and foreign ministers, Putin said opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a total of three documents, the cessation of hostilities, measures to monitor the truce and a statement of readiness to start peace talks.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the meeting that the agreement came after two months of talks with the heads of seven Syrian opposition groups, whose affiliated armed militants control most of central and northern Syria, and possess the bulk of the opposition forces' manpower, more than 60,000 fighters.

***Terrorist Groups Excluded

"The armed opposition groups that have not signed the latest ceasefire agreements in Syria are being automatically categorized as terrorist groups," Shoigu said.

The Syrian Army announced the agreement did not include the fighters of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front (recently rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), or factions linked to it.

Reuters reported that the truce appeared to hold early on Friday after a shaky start during the night with clashes between militants and government forces.

It was the first major international diplomatic initiative in West Asia in decades not to involve the United States.

The two previous Syria ceasefires were brokered by Washington and Moscow in February and September, but both collapsed within weeks, with the US and Russia accusing each other of not adhering to obligations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the United States could join the peace process once president-elect, Donald Trump, takes office on Jan. 20, in addition to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and the UN.

US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said the news of a ceasefire was positive, adding that "we hope it will be implemented fully and respected by all parties".

  Zarif-Lavrov Consultations

Zarif and Lavrov discussed the ceasefire agreement and the prospects for political settlement of the Syria conflict by phone on Thursday.

IRNA reported that the two expressed satisfaction with the widespread ceasefire in Syria and stressed the need for continuing the battle against terrorist entities, including the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group, Al-Nusra Front and their allies.

The top diplomats agreed to have regular consultations on talks planned between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Astana, Kazakhstan, within the framework of the Iran-Russia-Turkey initiative.

Talks on the enforced ceasefire picked up momentum when Russia, Iran and Turkey said after a December 20 meeting of their foreign ministers that they were ready to back a peace deal and adopted a declaration setting out principles for an agreement.

The trilateral talks came after Russia and Turkey successfully brokered a deal on the evacuation of encircled militants from a small pocket in eastern Aleppo, handing the Syrian government its biggest victory since the start of the conflict.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura welcomed the Syria ceasefire deal on Thursday and said he hoped it would save civilian lives, enable the delivery of aid and lead to productive peace talks in Astana.

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