UN envoy invites Syrian parties for talks in Geneva despite Russia's disapproval

Moscow claims Switzerland is not a neutral venue because of its support for Ukraine

UN envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen under a photo of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus. EPA
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The UN special envoy for Syria issued formal invitations to the Syrian government and opposition groups to meet in Geneva in April to resume talks on the country’s constitution, despite Russian opposition.

Geir Pedersen informed the UN Security Council that the ninth session of the Constitutional Committee, scheduled in Geneva more than 18 months ago, had been cancelled.

“That session did not take place because, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed this month, Russia no longer considers Switzerland a neutral venue, and the Syrian government did not accept Geneva as a result,” Mr Pedersen said.

Russia claims Switzerland is not a neutral venue because of its support for Ukraine.

Mr Pedersen reported that over the past year and a half, he has failed to get the Syrian parties to agree on a place for the committee meetings.

He suggested Nairobi for the ninth session but this was also rejected.

During a Syrian peace conference hosted by Russia in January 2018, participants agreed to establish a committee comprising 150 members responsible for drafting a new constitution.

The committee's formation was not completed until September 2019.

Mr Pedersen appealed to the Syrian parties to respond positively and to all key international stakeholders to back the UN's role without interfering in the chosen location, which the Syrian parties had already approved.

A year has passed since the devastating earthquake hit Syria and Turkey – video

A year has passed since the devastating earthquake hit Syria and Turkey

A year has passed since the devastating earthquake hit Syria and Turkey

“Having left no stone unturned to find an alternative venue, I believe the only way forward at this time is to reconvene in Geneva – at least as a bridging proposal while there is no consensus on an alternative venue, while also remaining open to an alternative venue for future sessions if consensus is found,” he said.

Russia's UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said that should Mr Pedersen believe the “more neutral Geneva would once again become acceptable for Syrian parties, so be it”.

If not, he said, “we expect that Mr Pedersen will finally fully focus his efforts on finding a solution regarding the venue for the next round of consultations for the constitutional committee, without imposing any of his own preferences on the Syrian parties”.

Robert Wood, US deputy ambassador to the UN, called on the Syrian regime to do its part to enact a nationwide ceasefire and to engage in the political process in “good faith”.

Mr Wood said President Bashar Al Assad's regime has been using Russia as a shield and for refusing direct negotiations for “far too long”.

He also accused Russia of undermining the work of the constitutional committee.

“Russian diplomats from Moscow participate frequently in international conferences and meetings at the UN in Geneva," Mr Wood said.

"Yet when it comes to the constitutional committee, they suddenly complain about the host country.”

Updated: February 29, 2024, 2:45 PM