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Sixth Round Of Syria Peace Talks Begins In Astana

A photo shows a general view during a fifth round of Syria peace talks, in Astana, July 5, 2017

ASTANA -- A sixth round of Syria peace talks began in Astana on September 14 – a two-day gathering sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey with negotiations that are separate from United Nations-sponsored talks in Geneva.

Experts from Russia, Turkey, and Iran were holding consultations focusing on forces that the three countries plan to deploy there within so-called de-escalation zones, according to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry.

The ministry says the Astana talks are focusing on how to regulate the operations of "de-escalation forces in Syria and formation of the control forces in Idlib,” a Syrian province bordering Turkey.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said ahead of the gathering that Moscow hopes agreements on a fourth de-escalation zone near the city of Idlib will be formalized at the meeting.

Russian military officials have said Moscow wants Russian military police to be deployed in Idlib Province to monitor a cease-fire that is part of the de-escalation plan.

Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, and a Syrian government delegation arrived in Kazakhstan's capital on September 13.

The talks also include representatives of some Syrian opposition groups and an observer mission from the United States.

The U.S. delegation is headed by David Satterfield, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

The U.S. State Department said Satterfield would "reinforce U.S. support for all efforts to achieve a sustainable de-escalation of violence and provision of unhindered humanitarian aid."

But it said Washington "remains concerned with Iran's involvement as a so-called 'guarantor' of the Astana process."

The U.S. government is concerned about calls for Iranian forces to also be deployed as cease-fire monitors.

It says Iran's "activities in Syria and unquestioning support" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government "have perpetuated the conflict and increased the suffering of ordinary Syrians."

Syrian opposition fighters also reject the idea of Iranian forces being given a role as cease-fire monitors, saying they are not neutral forces.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Kazinform, TASS, Izvestia, and Interfax