Syrian government, opposition enter first day of Astana talks

The new US administration is not directly involved because of the "immediate demands of the transition", the US Department of State said on Saturday, but Washington is represented by the US Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol, who attended the opening session.

The U.S. government's only representative when the talks begin Monday in Astana, Kazakhstan, will be its ambassador to Kazakhstan, officials said. Iran is backing Assad's government with ground troops while Russian Federation is supporting it with airpower.

The Syrian civil war is estimated to have killed about 400,000 people since March 2011.

While Turkey's government later said that Mr Simsek's remarks had been misconstrued, it was clear that he had said a settlement without Mr Assad would be "not, you know, realistic".

More than 300,000 people have been killed and 11 million displaced in nearly six years of conflict.

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He added: "While we are still evaluating the results of the strikes, the initial assessment indicates they were successful". The operation more or less exclusively centered on Sirte, which was at the time ISIS' de facto capital in the country.

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

If these first steps are agreed to, it could pave the way for continuing negotiations on a broader political solution when United Nations -led talks are expected to take place in Geneva in February, he said.

Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition on Monday traded barbs over interpretations of a ceasefire brokered by Russian Federation and Turkey in late December, as their respective regional backers met behind closed doors to keep the meeting on track. "I know how proud Syrians are and how proud they are to be Syrian and of their attractive country, a country that has made historically so many important contributions to human civilisation", he said.

But shadows loom. Iran, which has sided with Russian Federation and Assad in Syria, opposed inviting the U.S.to the talks.

The Syrian opposition is represented by armed groups that operate in the country's north and central parts, in particular, in the south.

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Mr Assad has said he would give amnesty to insurgents who lay down their arms but they are unlikely to agree at this juncture.

Russian Federation and Iran are divided over United States participation in planned Syria peace talks, a Moscow official said on Saturday, hinting at a rare public spat between the allies.

The other big change from previous abortive peace talks is that Turkey, formerly the most important ally of the Syrian opposition, has in many respects changed sides. "This has been a conflict driven forward by regional actors".

The two-day conference started on January 23, with delegations from the Syrian government and the opposition both participating. "They are no longer saying that Assad must go and this definitely brings more hope towards a resolution coming forward out of at least Turkey and the Turkish northern Syrian front", she concluded.

Speaking hours before the talks were scheduled to start, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko said the parties had not yet agreed to hold face-to-face meetings.

Colder temperatures, chance of snow expected into the weekend
Renta said that between midnight and 6 a.m. tomorrow there is an 80 percent chance of either snow, sleet or freezing rain . The NWS advisory for a high risk of rip currents will remain in place until at least Saturday evening.


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