The policy of the new US administration
remained the biggest question mark throughout the discussions at the seminar. Russian participants
voiced grave concerns, in particular about Washington's approach towards Iran. They stressed that
American efforts to marginalise Iran, whether in Syria or in the region as a whole, would narrow
down any space for cooperation between Russia and the West, and exacerbate tensions in the region.
EU participants, too, expressed doubts about the US approach and were concerned about Washington's
new unpredictability. Both sides cited successful cases of cooperation, such as the JCPOA and the
agreement on Syria's chemical weapons in 2012, which should serve as examples for the future.
Russian participants called upon the EU to use its influence in Washington to mitigate the actions
of the Trump administration. EU participants indicated that serious efforts had been made to rescue
the JCPOA during the spring of 2017, but that, at the same time, the influence of Brussels and EU
member states remained limited.
EU speakers noted that the role of the EU in Syria was about
to change. While it had no military profile, it was already an important humanitarian actor and had
begun to develop a political role, too. Greater unity among EU member states paved the way for the
adoption of a Syria strategy on the margins of an EU donor conference "for the future of Syria",
hosted in Brussels in April 2017. These developments also demonstrated that in a situation where
economic leverage will become more important than military action, the EU will have a significant
role to play in the Syrian context.
EU participants rejected the notion that the EU's "only"
interest in the region was stopping migration and terrorism inside the EU. They stressed the
interconnectedness of internal de-stabilisation and external implications. From this point of view,
the only way out of the crisis was a political solution to the conflict (under UN Security Council
Resolution 2254) by way of a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition and reconciliation. EU
participants supported in principle the Russian-led de-conflicting efforts in Astana. They were
concerned, however, about what they perceived as a selective approach applied by both the Syrian and
the Russian governments towards different parts of the country. They feared that a departure from
the goal of a global ceasefire could lead to the emergence of pockets of instability, in which
ISIS/Da'esh could thrive in the future. EU speakers stressed the importance of engagement with
regional actors such as Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others. While this regional level was
previously neglected by international actors, the EU had become increasingly active in this regard
since autumn 2016.