Syria talks in Astana facing difficulties - Iran delegate

UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura's office said that delegations representing the Syrian government and the opposition are set to arrive in Geneva around February 20 for

Syria peace talks set for Feb. 23: UN

A plenary session involving all three power-brokers and delegations from the Syrian government and opposition is scheduled to begin at 1600 local time (0900 GMT), a Kazakh foreign ministry official said at a press briefing in Astana Thursday.

Russian Federation promised to stop shelling opposition areas and to help push for the release of political prisoners, he said, as well as to send a "schedule" for the end of a government seige around Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

But with rebel attendance uncertain and the last meeting in Astana producing no major breakthrough, talks there seem unlikely to shift the conversation on the peace process.

The rebel delegation said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that it would send a group of "technical experts" to discuss ways of reinforcing a ceasefire.

The Syrian government has confirmed attendance at the Geneva talks and will probably be represented by Syria's United Nations ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari.

The U.N. envoy to Syria says negotiating a political transition for the war-torn country will be the sole item on the agenda for upcoming talks between the government and opposition in Geneva.

The first round of the discussions, which was similarly mediated by Tehran, Moscow and Ankara, took place in January and brought together representatives from the Damascus government and opposition groups for the first time during almost six years of conflict.

The HNC touted the delegation as "unified" and said it includes representatives from two rival opposition groupings known informally as the Cairo and Moscow groups.

The latest round of discussions will focus mostly on bolstering a faltering six-week truce with negotiations over any political settlement expected to wait for 23 February talks in Geneva.

Russian Federation and Turkey, which backs the rebels, have sought to revive diplomacy towards ending the war since the Syrian government and its backers defeated the rebels in Aleppo in December, their biggest defeat of the conflict.

This will be the first time Syrian regime and opposition delegations have returned to Geneva since the talks were suspended in April 2016.

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.

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