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Mattis: US reviewing Syria safe zones but has many questions

Mattis: US reviewing Syria safe zones but has many questions

This track is separate from the Russia-backed deal signed last week in Astana, Kazakhstan, though de Mistura said in a statement that he hopes the Astana agreement "will be implemented in full - thus bringing about a significant de-escalation in violence, and helping shape an environment conducive to the political intra-Syrian talks in Geneva".

"We do not accept a role for the United Nations or worldwide forces to monitor the agreement", said Walid al-Moallem, Syrian Foreign Minister. "Who is going to be ensuring they're safe?"

Al-Moallem said the government's alternative to stalled negotiations has been the implementation of "reconciliation agreements" around the country.

Mattis became the first high-ranking American official to make extensive comments on the safe zones, which are aimed at resolving the bloody conflict, raging in Syria since 2011.

Russian Federation and Iran are the Assad regime's closest allies, while Turkey is supportive of some of the anti-Assad rebel groups.

Moscow and Istanbul have nevertheless stepped up efforts to seek a resolution to the conflict amid a rapprochement in their bilateral ties.

The agreement of warring parties Russia, Iran and Turkey on so-called "deescalation zones" in Syria that are meant to be free of fighting came as a surprise to many observers.

"There will be no presence by any worldwide forces supervised by the United Nations", Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said. "We need a lot more detail", said a council diplomat.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey as guarantors of the observance of the ceasefire regime in the Syrian Arab Republic (hereinafter referred to as "Guarantors"): ... have agreed on the following.

On Saturday the Russian and US chiefs of general staff discussed the de-escalation zones and agreed to fully resume the implementation of a 2015 joint memorandum on preventing mid-air incidents over Syria, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying.

The next round of UN-brokered Syria peace talks is set to take place in Geneva on May 16. Ultimately, the two sides would become partners in the war on terror, working side-by-side to fight Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Islamic State (ISIS).

"We do not accept a role for the United Nations or global forces to monitor the agreement", al-Moallem told reporters.

"We'll look at the proposal, see if it can work", said Mattis, who is heading to Copenhagen to attend a meeting of the anti-ISIS coalition. "I think the worldwide community is united in the sense of wanting to see ISIS put on its back foot", he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. "All wars eventually come to an end".

Once de-escalation zones are secure, refugees will be encouraged to return to towns and villages they fled and provided with humanitarian aid.

Mazen al-Shami, an opposition activist based near Damascus, said the opposition fighters and their families are boarding the buses in Barzeh to head to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.

But regional experts, as well as current and former Turkish government officials warn that Mr. Assad would be the biggest beneficiary of any new no-fly or "safe zones", arguing the Assad regime could use the zones as a haven and incubator for the YPG or other Kurdish elements deemed an enemy of Turkey - a haven protected by US and coalition air power.


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