Syria’s government and opposition have agreed to start drafting constitutional reforms, the UN envoy to Syria announced on Sunday, in a major step after a nine-month hiatus in talks.
UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen did not say what was behind the agreement or offer details of what comes next. The drafting sessions formally begin on Monday.
Mr Pedersen on Sunday met the co-chairs of a committee that includes figures from President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, the opposition, exiles and civil society representatives.
They sat together for the first time to discuss how to proceed and plans for the week ahead, he said.
Thirty representatives divided between the two sides, along with 15 members of civil society, will be meeting with Mr Pedersen in Geneva until Friday.
“I have been negotiating between the parties to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward," he said. "I am very pleased to say we have reached such consensus.
“My appeal for the 45 is that we work as we have agreed to, and that we now start the drafting process of the constitutional committee,” he said.
The last round of talks ended in January without progress. Mr Pedersen announced late in September an agreement on “methodology” for a sixth round.
It is based on three pillars: respect for rules of procedure; the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles” before the meeting; and regular meetings of the co-chairs with him before and during the meeting.
Syria’s 10-year conflict has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced half of the country’s 23 million population, including more than 5 million refugees now mostly in neighbouring countries.
At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution.
The 2012 UN road map to peace in Syria calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with UN-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
After the fifth round of negotiations failed late in January, Mr Pedersen hinted that the Syrian government delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.
The US and other western allies accused Mr Al Assad of deliberately stalling and delaying the drafting of a new constitution until after presidential elections, to avoid a UN-supervised vote as called for by the Security Council.
Late in May, Mr Al Assad was re-elected in what the government called a landslide for a fourth seven-year term. The West and his opposition described the election as illegitimate and a sham.
Mr Pedersen said the need for “a genuine intra-Syrian dialogue” was reportedly discussed by Mr Al Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently in Moscow, “and through this, a genuine process of Syrian political reform".