While the Syrian American Council supports all good-faith efforts to achieve peace in Syria, the memorandum of understanding on Syrian “de-escalation areas” signed in Astana, Kazakhstan today is unlikely to achieve peace. More likely, it will increase risks of partition, legitimize the role of Iran’s sectarian militias, and allow the regime side to continue killing civilians.
- The Astana Memorandum is promising in that it stipulates an end to attacks, including aerial attacks, within the “de-escalation areas” and unhindered humanitarian access that would break years of Assad regime sieges on hundreds of thousands of people. The idea of jointly-monitored buffer zones or “security zones” with checkpoints and observation points also hold potential.
- However, that potential will not be realized while security zones include Iran as a monitor and guarantor. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps has supervised the movement of tens of thousands of extremist foreign fighters into Syria, and these foreign fighters have engaged both in war crimes and massive sectarian cleansing. Any peace agreement that sanctions Iranian presence in Syria is destined to fail.
- The composition of forces in security zones around regime-besieged north Homs and East Ghouta is especially worrisome. Checkpoints are to be administered “by the forces of the Guarantors [Iran, Russia, and Turkey] by consensus.” Given that two out of three guarantors are directly involved in sieges against Syrian civilians, the chances of those checkpoints ensuring full humanitarian access are slim-to-none.
- While the memorandum includes monitoring mechanisms, it includes no enforcement mechanisms to punish violators of the ceasefire on the regime side. This leaves the door open for regime and Russian forces to continue bombing hospitals, schools, and bakeries while claiming that they are “targeting ISIS and Nusra” as occurred in past ceasefire agreements.
Above and beyond any specific provisions, the Astana Memorandum is problematic in that it represents a transparent attempt by Russian President Putin to hijack the Trump Administration’s ongoing deliberations concerning Syrian safe zones. There is no endpoint to the proposed agreement; only an endless ceasefire that freezes battle lines and could translate into a de facto partition.
The “de-escalation” areas outlined in the Astana agreement serve as a poor substitute for safe zones where civilians are truly protected and will not motivate Syrian refugees to return home. A peacekeeping mechanism that includes a vital role for Assad’s two main backers is no substitute for one that incorporates the U.S. and U.N. to ensure balanced enforcement.
Syrian rebels involved in the Astana talks are right to be skeptical. President Trump should demand a better deal.
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (973) 954-0982