The 14th round of the Astana talks for Syria concluded in the Kazakh capital of Nur Sultan with a joint statement from the Russian Federation, Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran. As guarantor countries of the Astana format, they reiterated their continued commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria.
Moscow, Istanbul and Tehran also used the conference to condemn Western presence in the Middle East. They primarily accused Washington of promoting illegal self-governance initiatives under the pretext of combating terrorism and criticized the United States for what they referred to as “the illegal seizure and distribution of income from the sale of oil which belongs to Syria.”
Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to Syria, said, “We will leave this position on the conscience of the Americans. We are categorically against this position. Nobody can misappropriate the national assets of another country. Not to mention illegally. It is not important in whose interests and where they want to send the income from the sales of oil of the Syrian Central government.”
It is important to mention that the Astana summit was also attended by both Syrian government officials and opposition members. Delegations from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and the United Nations were also present as observers.
In related news, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled a new series of sanctions to be imposed against Iran. During a press briefing at the State Department, the American top diplomat underscored that “As long as its malign behavior continues, so will our campaign of maximum pressure.”
Secretary Pompeo went on to announce the designation of three Iranian transportation companies that helped the Islamic Republic to import items for the production of weapons of mass destruction. “These programs involved the siphoning of funds away from the oppressed Iranian people,” said Pompeo, adding that “they augment the regime’s campaign of terror and intimidation at home and throughout the world.”
The fresh economic punitive measures came just days after a weekend prisoner swap between the United States and Iran, in a rare act of cooperation since tensions escalated in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. Secretary Pompeo voiced cautious optimism, saying he hoped the exchange would “lead to a broader discussion of consular affairs” between the two sparring nations.
“We still have Americans held in Iran. Too many for sure,” said Pompeo. “We are working to try and develop that, to expand that, to use this as an opportunity to continue that effort. You know that SPEHA (Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs/Hostage Negotiator) O’Brien and our team here at the State Department – both professionals working on this; as well as our Iran team, are very focused on getting every one of these Americans back. So I hope that it portends well for this. We’ve had some indication that that may be the case, but I don’t want to overstate that. I don’t want to get false optimism about that pathway. The American people should just know we’re serious about this. We’re intent on it. We will follow every even tiny opening we see.”