Syrian opposition says UN must take firmer stance towards Syria to end stand-off

Talks on drafting new constitution are under way in Geneva under auspices of UN

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The UN must take a “firmer stance” and become “less diplomatic” when dealing with the Syrian regime to end the crisis, an opposition spokesman told The National, as constitutional talks kicked off in Geneva this week.

Syria's crisis, which has left half a million people dead, devastated cities and drawn in other countries and extremist groups, entered its twelfth year this month.

The regime's key supporters have been Russia and Iran while Turkey and other Arab states have backed the opposition to a certain degree during the conflict.

Previous rounds of UN-led talks have failed to make much progress, with President Bashar Al Assad refusing to step down and negotiate with the opposition.

Over the years, the fragmented opposition has insisted that Mr Al Assad leave his position as part of any political settlement.

However, last May, Mr Al Assad held presidential elections, which he won by a landslide, official figures showed.

The opposition believes that the UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pederson must be less diplomatic when addressing the UN Security Council and must put pressure the regime to make compromises to enable progression of the peace process.

“The UN is supposed to do more, be more active, call a spade a spade and at the same time come together in the General Assembly and not the Security Council because it’s been taken as a hostage by Russia and its use of the veto to protect the regime,” Yahya Al Aridi said during a phone call.

Previous UN Security Council sessions have failed to adopt resolutions condemning the use of chemical weapons and the regime’s brutality against civilians following vetoes by Russia.

The ball is in the UN’s court to save Syria, Mr Al Aridi said, adding the international community rose against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so it must do the same for Syria.

“When [Mr Pederson] makes his briefs to the UN Security Council he doesn’t dot the Is and cross the Ts, he doesn’t specify who is hindering the process, who is trying to obstruct it and who is weaseling out and this is the regime,” he added.

The Syrian opposition figure is insisting that Mr Pederson is not expressing his annoyance with the regime's lack of compliance to UN resolutions.

“However, the UN envoy does this out of being diplomatic because it seems that the main concern is to get the three teams together in Geneva and that’s it,” said the Syrian opposition spokesman.

He urged Mr Pederson to take the Syrian issue to the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution that would end the “brutality of the Syrian regime”.

“They took Ukraine to UNGA and they got the vote where Russia and the Syrian regime said no to the resolution that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said.

“So for us it’s harder and it’s been going on for over a decade,” he said.

The UN special envoy's office told The National they will not comment on Mr Al Aridi's remarks.

Talks on the constitution will be the seventh round between 15 members of each of Syria’s three factions. The latest round in October ended with no agreement on how to move forward.

Those who are represented in the talks are members of the opposition, government and civil society.

Before the start of the negotiations, Mr Pedersen said the parties had agreed on a deal and decided to meet again with his help this week in Geneva.

“We do not have any expectations at all because the experience of the last six rounds was disappointing, as the special envoy has said in his own words,” Mr Al Aridi said.

“We have two parties, with one side choosing the path to a military solution with no respect to the other part and no regard to what Syrians have been going through and their main concern is to focus on remaining in power and for the Syrian people to suffer,” he said.

Mr Al Aridi has refused to go to Geneva and participate in the talks and has frozen his membership in the constitutional committee. He believes the regime is “playing games” and there needs to be a time plan put in place.

“The regime has never committed itself and has wasted time so the world would know that it’s participating in the political process,” he said.

Syria's opposition believes the only way out is to ensure that all sides “get together politically in a different way.”

The opposition must “stand tall and strong” to commit itself to what Syrians really want and to implement UN resolutions, he said.

Updated: March 24, 2022, 4:36 PM