Syria Rejects U.N. Monitoring Role in ‘De-Escalation Zones’

Damascus, The Syrian government said on Monday that the “de-escalation zones” negotiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey, which took effect this weekend, could not be monitored by others, including the United Nations.

The declaration, made by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem at a news conference in Damascus, Syria, added to uncertainty over how to ensure compliance with the agreement, which theoretically halts hostilities in four regions of the country.

“We do not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement,” Mr. Moallem told reporters. Should there be violations, he said, “the Syrian Army will be prepared to respond in a decisive manner.”

Russia, the main ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the principal author of the agreement, had suggested when it was announced last week that outside powers could play a monitoring role. But Mr. Moallem’s remarks appeared to rule out that possibility.

Even so, Russia has sent signals that it is hoping to gain support for the agreement from the United States despite their deep differences over the Syrian war, now in its seventh year.

Mr. Lavrov will be the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Washington since the Trump administration took office, and it will be his first trip there in years.

The de-escalation zones agreement, reached in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Thursday, is regarded as one of the more ambitious diplomatic undertakings by outside powers to halt the war, but it has also raised intense skepticism from insurgents and from some of their supporters, including the United States.

“Moscow has invested all of its cards in the Astana process,” Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said in a briefing posted on the institute’s website. “Russia has a great deal to lose should this initiative fall apart, which makes acquiring a more committed U.S. statement of support extremely important.”

The State Department has expressed concern about the role of Iran in the agreement and the history of failed cease-fires in the war, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions of Syrians displaced.

Under the agreement, which is to last initially for six months, all combatants in the conflict are forbidden to use weapons in the de-escalation zones, including warplanes. The agreement also allows humanitarian aid to civilians in these areas.

The agreement does not apply to fighters loyal to the Islamic State or a Qaeda-linked group commonly known as the Nusra Front, which theoretically remains vulnerable to attack.

It is still unclear how the agreement might affect American airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria. A senior Russian diplomat, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, said on Friday that the agreement would effectively stop American warplanes from flying in Syria’s airspace. But a State Department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, disputed that assertion, saying it “makes no sense.”

Source- New York Times

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