Turkey, Russia, France and Germany will meet in Istanbul to find a political solution to the Syrian war. Yet this has been preceded by many failures.
The multi-layered war in Syria has involved many local and international actors and interests throughout its eight years of violent war.
The first step towards a sustainable solution to end the war in Syria seemed clear: bringing all parties of the conflict together to discuss a peaceful political settlement. But multiple high-level attempts failed, with many of the parties going their own way.
Here’s the history of major attempts that sought a political remedy to the Syrian war.
A UN-backed attempt in Geneva
The first ever peace talks were launched by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 2012. With the United States, Turkey and Gulf countries supporting the different parties.
Assad’s ally Iran wasn’t invited to the talks. The final resolution of the first Geneva talks allowed the parties to discuss Assad’s removal during a transition period. This failed, one of many to come.
By 2015, Assad began consolidating his position with Russian and Iranian backing.
Again UN brokered talks collapsed in 2017 when the Syrian regime delegation refused to discuss the constitutional process and presidential elections.
Blaming the regime for the failure of the talks, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura said if the regime continues “not willing to meet anyone who has a different opinion” it will be difficult to make progress.
The second attempt: Astana
With the Geneva talks failing, Iran excluded and Turkey at odds with America over its support of the YPG, a new channel emerged.
Talks between Russia, Turkey and Iran followed in the Kazakh capital of Astana in 2016 with the leadership of Russia, Iran, and Turkey.
The meeting in Astana brought the strongest fighting opposition groups on the field together and made them sit with the regime for the first time since the beginning of the war.
Astana yielded more results than the Geneva talks as the three guarantor countries, Iran, Russia and Turkey agreed on “de-escalation zones” in a bid to stop violence in mainly opposition-held areas.
Even though the agreement reduced the violence temporarily, the agreement failed to be fully implemented as the Syrian regime continued its air strikes on so-called de-escalation areas.
Turkey and Russia took the lead in using their leverage over the opposition and the regime respectively. Meanwhile, the US-backed SDF, a YPG dominated ground force, became the main tool of the US-led coalition’s fight against Daesh.
The US’ decision to use the YPG resulted in an escaltion of tensions between Turkey and the US. The YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, which has been designated a terrorist organisation in Turkey, the US and the EU.
Russia-led talks: Sochi
With Daesh in retreat, Russia then launched a new series of talks on Syria in Russia’s Sochi, asserting its power as a dominant player.
It was again the Astana trio: Turkey, as the opposition's guarantor and Syrian regime’ ally Iran and Russia that brokered the talks. But this time, Assad’s removal from power, which was discussed during the Geneva talks, was not a precondition for the talks.
The Syrian opposition refused to take part in the meeting as a result.
The talks in Sochi mainly focused on the future of Syria, a possible constitution and a roadmap to create a demilitarized zone.
The deal has not been fully implemented as Syrian regime forces have violated the deal in several areas within the designated buffer zone and no clear progress has been made about a new constitution after a decision to establish a constitutional committee made up of 150 candidates.
Four-way summit in Istanbul
Leaders from Russia, France and Germany will be hosted in a summit in Istanbul, part of a new attempt to reach a political solution in war-ravaged Syria.
With the involvement of European countries that have seen a massive refugee influx, the focus of the summit is expected to be on refugees. Turkey is already sheltering 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Both France and Germany are in agreement with Astana principles of supporting a demilitarized zone.
Turkey's presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement that the focus of the meeting would be preserving last month's deal on Idlib, the last major opposition-held stronghold and preventing violations by the Assad regime in the area.
UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations have voiced concerns that a regime offensive on Idlib could create a further refugee influx.
In September, Russia and Turkey agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in the area and carry out joint patrols to prevent further fighting. Following the deal, the Turkish Defence Ministry announced the removal of heavy weapons from the area.
Ahead of the summit, Syrian rebels traded fire with regime forces in northern Syria overnight, their "fiercest" exchanges since a demilitarised zone deal was announced for the area last month, the war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.