By Selen Temizer
Turkey, Russia, and Iran have reached an agreement on holding the next high-level meeting on Syria in Russian resort city of Sochi in July 2018.
The decision came during the ninth round of Astana talks on Syria held in Kazakhstan.
On the final day of the Astana talks, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Erjan Ashikbaev read out a joint statement by the tripartite countries.
All parties have agreed on maintaining the de-escalation zones and the cease-fire in Syria, said the joint statement.
According to the statement, the third meeting of the "Working Group on the release of detainees/abductees and handover of the bodies as well as the identification of missing persons by three Guarantors' representatives with the participation of the UN and ICRC experts" will be held in Ankara in June 2018.
Turkey, Russia, and Iran in the statement reaffirmed their commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria while maintaining the cease-fire regime and the de-escalation zones.
Underscoring the importance of restoring "normal and peaceful life" for Syrians and ensuring "rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to deliver necessary medical aid and humanitarian assistance," the statement also stressed the necessity of establishing "conditions for safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their original places of residence as well as free movement of local population."
It also asserted "determination to fight terrorism in Syria in order to ultimately eliminate DAESH, Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al‑Qaeda or DAESH as designated by the UN Security Council."
The joint statement welcomed the convening of the second meeting of the working group on detainees, abductees and the handover of bodies.
Guarantor countries, through the statement, reaffirmed the necessity "to continue joint efforts aimed at building confidence between the conflicting parties in Syria."
Whereas the UNSC resolution adopted unanimously in late 2015 called for a lasting cease-fire and a viable political settlement in the war-torn Syria, the joint statement called for the continuation of political dialogue.
The three countries "in this regard, agreed to hold joint consultations of their high-level representatives with the United Nations Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for Syria as well as with Syrian parties in order to create conditions to facilitate the beginning of the Constitutional Committee's work in Geneva as soon as possible and to carry out such meetings on a regular basis," statement added.
'Astana process have been positive'
Later, Turkish Foreign Ministry in a statement also affirmed that "the participants reviewed mainly the state of affairs regarding the implementation of the de-escalation memorandum as well as the establishment of the Constitutional Committee which was declared at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. The issues of fight against terrorism in Syria and improvement of humanitarian access were also addressed."
"At the meeting, we registered our reservations on the forced evacuation operations conducted in Eastern Ghouta and in the north of Homs, as well as on the law that paves the way for the confiscation of the properties of Syrian refugees and IDPs," statement added.
In a news conference, Russian delegation head Alexander Lavrentiev said: "Astana process is alive and will continue. The Astana process have achieved positive results."
Meanwhile, former premier of the Syrian interim government Ahmed Tuma made a statement on behalf of the opposition delegation and said their priority is to protect the lives of nearly four million civilians in Syria's Idlib.
Tuma welcomed the progress and the mechanism on the release of captives and hostages as he underscored that establishing of constitutional committee and constitutional reforms must be parallel to other processes.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura welcomed the joint statement which made reference to the Geneva process and said they are to announce next round of Geneva talks later.