Bridging Geneva and Astana: The Best Hope for Sustained De-escalation in Syria

Bridge in Syria
Bertramz, CC BY-SA 3.0

Bridging Geneva and Astana: The Best Hope for Sustained De-escalation in Syria

By Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for Syria, the Middle East and North Africa at the U.S. Institute of Peace

As the conflict in Syria approaches its tenth anniversary, a holistic political settlement encompassing the entirety of the country is unlikely in the near to medium term. More than eight years of diplomatic initiatives have yielded only limited results. The two principal tracks – the Geneva and the Astana/Sochi processes – are running up against the complexity of the conflict and an emboldened Assad regime; neither process is sufficient on its own to generate momentum towards a lasting political settlement for the whole of Syria. However, creatively bridging these two processes could bring greater stability to those areas of Syria still beyond the Assad regime’s control, assuaging the suffering of some Syrians, and potentially serving as a building block for a longer-term settlement.

Barring a major strategic shift in diplomacy, developments on the ground could render both diplomatic efforts obsolete. Instead, negotiation efforts should pivot to develop innovative approaches to bridge the Geneva and Astana processes. This bridging effort would focus on consolidating fragile ceasefires in Syria’s northwest and northeast regions, and anchoring some semblance of stability in these areas through improved humanitarian access and enhancing local governance structures.


The ideas expressed are those of the author not the U.S. Institute of Peace or the publisher

Published in October 2020

All rights reserved to GCSP

Part of the Syria Transition Challenges Project

Mona Yacoubian is a senior advisor for Syria, the Middle East and North Africa at the U.S. Institute of Peace.  In 2019, she served as the Executive Director of the Syria Study Group which USIP was mandated by Congress to facilitate. Ms. Yacoubian joined the U.S. Institute of Peace after serving as deputy assistant administrator in the Middle East Bureau at USAID from 2014-2017 where she had responsibility for Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Prior to joining USAID, Ms. Yacoubian was a senior advisor at the Stimson Center where her work focused on the Arab uprisings with an emphasis on Syria.

Prior to joining the Stimson Center, Ms. Yacoubian served as a special advisor on the Middle East at the U.S. Institute of Peace where her work focused on Lebanon and Syria as well as broader issues related to democratization in the Arab world. From 1990-1998, Ms. Yacoubian served as the North Africa analyst in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Ms. Yacoubian’s research focuses on conflict analysis and prevention in the Middle East, with a specific focus on Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Her interests also include fragility and resilience. Ms. Yacoubian was a Fulbright scholar in Syria where she studied Arabic at the University of Damascus from 1985 to 1986.  She has held an international affairs fellowship with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and is currently a CFR member. Ms. Yacoubian earned an MPA from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a BA from Duke University.