Foreign Minister Steinmeier flew to Paris on Monday (9 May) for a meeting of the "like-minded states" who are trying to foster peace in war-torn Syria. Steinmeier expressed his hope that it would be possible to consolidate the de-escalation in the vicinity of Aleppo. The aim now, he said, was to lay the groundwork for a resumption of the Geneva peace negotiations as quickly as possible. Talks to this end were last held in Berlin on 4 May. Another meeting is scheduled to take place in Vienna on Whit Monday (16 May) in order to reinvigorate the Geneva talks.
One week after the Berlin talks on Syria
Only last week, Foreign Minister Steinmeier invited key players to Berlin to push for a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution. The UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and the French Foreign Minister came to the meeting in the Villa Borsig in Tegel on 4 May. Shortly beforehand, Steinmeier had also spoken in Berlin with Riad Hijab, the Syrian opposition representative.
Following the US-Russian mediated agreement reached mid-week on a ceasefire for the Aleppo area, the beleaguered populace has for a few days been largely spared serious bloodshed. Steinmeier welcomed this truce, but called for a political solution to finally bring the civil war to an end. The US and Russia issued a joint statement on Monday. This sets out detailed measures towards implementing the nationwide cessation of hostilities agreed in February.
Seize this chance!
Steinmeier reiterated that the Vienna and Munich agreements, in which all key regional actors had agreed on a roadmap for a negotiated solution, had opened up the first ever chance to end the war. "We must not allow this opportunity to pass unused", Steinmeier said in Paris. He went on to note that, as agreed in Munich, one decisive step thereto would be the formation of a transitional government, which would pave the way for constitutional reform and new elections. Steinmeier further stressed that it was in nobody's interest for state structures in Syria to collapse. The transitional process would have to be orderly and safeguard the interests of all Syrians. To this end, the groundwork for a resumption of the Geneva negotiations must be laid as quickly as possible, he concluded.
An encouraging sign; trial period until Whitsun
Following the talks in Berlin, Foreign Minister Steinmeier spoke of an "encouraging sign for the opposition, which is not however sufficient for a return to the political talks in Geneva." The coming days will show to what extent the US-Russian agreement will lead to improvements on the ground. The ISSG talks on Syria in Vienna will be resumed on Whit Monday (16 May). Steinmeier said that if a reduction in the hostilities were to be discerned by then, the parties involved would also encourage the Syrian opposition to return to the negotiating table in Geneva.
The route to peace in Syria has thus been traced out: first, a consolidation of the ceasefire, followed by the resumption of the talks in Geneva, and ultimately the formation of a transitional government which will guide the process of drafting a new constitution and holding free elections.