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Executive Summary for March 16th

We review the key developments in Syria, including the opposing sides’ submission in Geneva of documents outlining their understanding of a political solution, the Kurdish announcement of an independent federation in the northeast, and Kerry’s impending visit to Moscow.

Published on March 16, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Warring Sides Submit ‘Documents’ to de Mistura

Syria’s opposing sides submitted documents to the United Nations on Tuesday detailing their understanding of how a political solution would look in the country, AFP reports.

As the second day of resumed peace talks in Geneva came to a close, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters he would try to “analyze” the different positions in an attempt to find common ground between the two sides.

“We … exchanged some papers but also ideas on how to get deeper at the next meeting on the issue of transitional processes,” said de Mistura after meeting with the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) on Tuesday.

De Mistura has described the political transition in Syria as “the mother of all issues” within the ongoing peace talks.

In their meeting with the U.N. envoy on Tuesday, the HNC reportedly called for immediate action to address the plight of thousands in government detention.

Basma Kodmani, an HNC spokeswoman, told reporters the HNC’s demand for the immediate release of prisoners illegally held by the Syrian government “is not up to negotiation.”

De Mistura admitted that no progress had been made on the issue of detainees.

Kurds to Announce Federal System in Northeast

The Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria are set to declare a federal system on Wednesday, a unilateral move made after being excluded thus far from the political peace process in Geneva, Reuters reports.

The move will combine the three autonomous Kurdish-led areas in northern Syria into a federal system, and is likely to increase Turkish fears of a more established Kurdish presence along its border.

Idris Nassan, an official in the foreign affairs directorate of Kobani, told Reuters the announcement would mean “widening the framework of self-administration which the Kurds and others have formed,” saying the areas would be named the Federation of Northern Syria and would represent all ethnic groups living there.

The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has been excluded from the political process in Geneva, largely at the behest of Ankara, which views the party and its military wing, the YPG militia, as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Kerry to Travel to Russia After Military Withdrawal Announcement

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he will travel to Moscow next week to discuss political solutions to the conflict in Syria, shortly after Russia’s partial military withdrawal looks set to affect the conflict and the fledgling peace talks.

Kerry said Tuesday he would meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in a meeting scheduled after Moscow’s surprise announcement that it would withdraw most of its military presence from Syria.

“We have reached a very important phase in the process,” he said, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Russian state TV has broadcast images of cargo planes being loaded with heavy equipment in Syria and bomber pilots being greeted by their families at an air base in western Russia, but Pentagon officials said they’d seen fewer than 10 of Russia’s 50 or so fighter jets leaving the country. As of Tuesday night, there were no signs of troop withdrawals.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said the timing of Russia’s announcement “is not a coincidence, or at least we should not consider it a coincidence.” He said he hoped the military paring back would bring “some positive influence on the actual progress of the talks.”

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Top image: Syrian ambassador to the U.N. and head of the government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari, left, and U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, right, arrive at peace talks in Geneva on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Philippe Desmazes/AP)

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