Syrian opposition ‘cautiously optimistic’ on UN-led constitutional talks

As talks begin in Geneva, opposition spokesman says regime does not want a political solution to end war

Syria’s opposition is “cautiously optimistic” that UN-led talks this week could establish a new constitution, a Syrian official has told The National.

Constitutional talks on the country’s future kicked off on Monday in Geneva with participants from the opposition and government gearing up to start drafting for constitutional reforms to end the devastating 10-year war.

“There is a cautious kind of optimism because we got used to the regime’s tricks and the political process in general,” Yahya Al Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian opposition and member of the committee, told The National.

“Such occasions are used to waste time, to evade the pressure of the Russians, who want some political gain after what they did militarily in Syria.”

The Syrian Constitutional Committee, which comprises representatives of the Syrian government, opposition and civil society, was officially launched in Geneva on October 30, 2019, to draft a new constitution for the war-torn country.

The Committee’s Small Body, including 45 delegates – 15 each from the three groups – has met in Geneva five times, without making any major progress.

“There was a meeting yesterday [Sunday] with the UN envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, and an agreement on drafting certain reforms or amendments to the constitution in particular to those exercising authority was made,” Mr Al Aridi said.

But the opposition believes the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad “does not want a political process, it just believes in a military solution”.

The last round of talks ended in January without progress.

Late last month, Mr Pedersen announced an agreement on “methodology” for a sixth round.

The methodology will be based on respect for rules of procedure, the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles” before the meeting and regular meetings of the co-chairmen with him before and during the meeting.

“The world is saying that the regime must get involved in the political process. The fear is that the involvement in the political process is not more than a game to gain time,” Mr Al Aridi said.

Talks in the Swiss city are expected to last for a week, until next Friday.

“We need a rescue plan for Syria and the Syrian people … Syria should go back to life,” he said.

The opposition has been pushing for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 for years. The resolution, which was adopted in 2015, called for a ceasefire, elections and political transition in Syria and talks under Mr Pedersen’s watch.

For years the opposition has pushed for a political solution, reached through a UN-mediated, inclusive, Syrian-led and Syrian-owned dialogue, as the only way to achieve peace.

“UN resolution 2254 should be fully implemented so Syria could come back to life,” Mr Al Aridi said.

The devastating war has killed more than half a million people and displaced half of the country’s pre-war 23 million population.

More than five million Syrian refugees reside in other Mena states.

“We are trying to bring our country back to lif; we need to rebuild our country. The regime cares about its continuity even at the expense of people’s lives,” he said.

Updated: October 18, 2021, 5:36 PM