Video: Syrian regime emboldened ahead of Russia-backed peace talks
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Victory in Aleppo has strengthened President Bashar al-Assad’s hand ahead of planned peace talks brokered by Russia, Syria expert Hilal Khashan tells FRANCE 24, noting that regime change in Damascus is no longer on the agenda.
Building on a ceasefire brokered this week, Russia and Turkey are pushing for peace talks between the Syrian regime and its foes, to be held in January in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.
Khashan, a professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, said the fall of Aleppo’s last rebel stronghold, and the entente between Moscow and Ankara, meant that Assad’s regime would be in a “better negotiating position” going into the talks.
“Victory in east Aleppo makes any precondition regarding the regime unthinkable,” he said, referring to past calls for Assad to quit power, which the Syrian rebels and their allies had previously put forward as a condition to peace talks.
Turkey, which had opposed Assad throughout the Syrian conflict, “now seems to have abandoned the rebels – and the events in east Aleppo attest to this,” Khashan added.
As its cooperation tightened with Moscow, Turkey stood conspicuously quiet as the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, took full control of Aleppo this month, handing the rebels their biggest defeat in the civil war so far.
Khashan noted that the new ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey this week contained a number of “loopholes”, allowing the regime to continue its attacks on radical rebel groups excluded from the truce.
“The Syrian regime and its allies will be at liberty to strike at the al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,” he said, referring to the former al Qaeda affiliate, which changed its name this year in an effort to distance itself from the terrorist network.
Khashan also cautioned against describing the Russo-Turkish peace push, which conspicuously excludes the US, as a humiliation for Washington.
In a clear snub to US President Barack Obama, Moscow has said it would look to get the team of President-elect Donald Trump in the mix when he takes power next month.
But Khashan argued that Syria was “not a major regional country for the US to worry about”, playing down the notion of fundamental differences between Moscow and Washington.
“American acquiescence made it possible for Russia to step into the Syrian theatre,” he said, adding: “There is a general understanding between the Russians and the Americans on the big picture of how the conflict in Syria should come to an end.”
Click on the player above to watch the interview.