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UN Syria Envoy Calls Astana Talks On Syria 'Missed Opportunity'

UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura (file photo)

The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura has called the last Syria peace talks of the year in Astana, a "missed opportunity" for the Syrian people, as talks in the Kazakh capital ended without results.

De Mistura's office said on November 29 that he "deeply regrets that ... there was no tangible progress in overcoming the 10-month stalemate on the composition of the constitutional committee" that is meant to reform the constitution and pave the way towards elections in war-ridden Syria.

"This was the last occasion of an Astana meeting in 2018 and has, sadly for the Syrian people, been a missed opportunity to accelerate the establishment of a credible, balanced and inclusive, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated constitutional committee," de Mistura's statement said.

The statement came after the two-day talks in Astana following de Mistura's meetings with representatives of Russia and Iran -- allies of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad -- and Turkey, which supports rebels.

The three countries act as guarantors of a deescalation zone in Syria, established in the so-called Astana process.

Talks have regularly taken place there since 2017 and are meant to complement the UN-led peace process.

A joint communique agreed by Russia, Iran, and Turkey targeted Washington's continued military presence in the country.

The guarantors "rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism," it said.

Earlier this week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the United States of using the presence of the Islamic State group in southern Syria as an excuse to keep forces stationed there.

Russia's Syria negotiator Aleksandr Lavrentyev also complained of the extended U.S. presence in Syria during the talks in Astana.

The U.S. State Department said it was vital to convene the constitutional committee and accused Russia and Iran of continuing "to use the process to mask the Assad regime’s refusal to engage in the political process."

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert added in a statement that success was not possible without the international community holding Damascus fully accountable for that lack of progress.

The United States has attended some previous Astana rounds as an observer but U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey last week ruled out Washington participating in the latest talks.

The next set of Syria negotiations in Astana are scheduled for early February, according to the joint communique.

Assad's government has so far rejected any efforts to rewrite Syria's constitution, saying it is a domestic issue.

Syria's devastating seven-year civil war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions.

With reporting by DPA and AFP
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