Low Expectations as Syrian Government and Rebels Meet for Peace Talks in Astana

PHOTO: A Syrian woman walks with her daughter through the destruction in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Jan. 19, 2017.PlayHassan Ammar/AP Photo
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Representatives of the Syrian government and rebel factions met Monday in Astana, Kazakhstan, for the first peace talks between the two parties in a year.

The talks, brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, are expected to focus on maintaining a cease-fire reached on Dec. 30 rather than a long-term political solution, analysts say.

“In a best-case scenario, you get increased humanitarian access to besieged areas accompanied by a beefed up cease-fire enhancement mechanism to be monitored by the three external actors [Russia, Turkey and Iran],” Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told ABC News.

If these first steps are agreed to, it could pave the way for continuing negotiations on a broader political solution when U.N.-led talks are expected to take place in Geneva in February, he said. In Monday's meeting, the Syrian opposition is represented by militants on the ground in Syria rather than a Syrian opposition based outside of the country. George Krol, the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, attended Monday's session, but the U.S. and other Western countries are not directly involved in the negotiations.

“It reflects a lack of Western leverage on the ground,” said Barnes-Dacey. “This has been a conflict driven forward by regional actors. The U.S. and Europe have been very reluctant to get involved militarily.”

Haid Haid -- an associate fellow specializing in the Middle East at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a policy institute based in London -- said that the warring sides met ahead of Monday's official talks and weren’t able to agree on a deal. At the same time, Russia and Iran are divided, he said, which will make it more difficult to achieve an agreement. He said that the talks were planned to take place now to benefit from the administrative transition in the U.S.

“Russia and Turkey agree on any attempt to sideline the West because they believe that it will make it easier for them to reach a deal on Syria,” he told ABC News.

But a long-term solution needs Western involvement, he said, because Turkey doesn’t have influence on all the rebel groups in Syria and can’t impose a deal on all of them. Similarly, Russia doesn’t have control of all the factions who are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“That’s why the U.N. has to be involved in order to ensure the stability of such a deal,” he said. “You need independent observers and actors who have influence over the rest of the actors in this. The U.N., the U.S., and the EU would take part in rebuilding Syria in the future. It is difficult to imagine how they would participate in rebuilding if they weren’t involved in the peace process.”

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov described Monday's meeting as “a clear manifestation of the international community’s efforts directed to peaceful settlement of the situation in Syria.”

“Kazakhstan believes that the only way to find a solution to the Syrian crisis is through negotiations,” he said.

Syria’s six-year war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of Syrians.