US: Syria constitutional committee presents 'opening' to political process

Washington alarmed by situation in north-east Syria

epa07958386 US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy for Syria Joel D. Rayburn speaks to the media a day prior to the Syrian Constitutional Committee meeting in Geneva, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 29 October 2019.  EPA/VALENTIN FLAURAUD
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Syria’s constitutional committee talks present an opening to a political process that could end the eight-year war, the US special envoy to Syria, Joel Rayburn, said on Tuesday.

Representatives of the Syrian government, opposition and society are expected to meet in Geneva on Wednesday to hold the first session of Syria’s Constitutional Committee, aimed at mapping a political way forward for the war-torn country.

“The Syrians who have travelled to Geneva must put their people first and participate constructively to create a constitution that respects the rights of all Syrians and offers a peaceful way forward to end this conflict,” Mr Rayburn said in Geneva.

Washington has stressed that a military solution is not feasible to creating peace.

“There is no military solution that could bring stability and allow Syrians to return safely to their homes,” Mr Rayburn said.

The launch of the committee represents “hope for the Syrian people who have not had much”, he said.

“We have good relations with a variety of community of groups we are willing to provide the Syrians constructive approaches to help them through with their issues,” Mr Rayburn said.

Iran, Turkey and Russia echoed Mr Rayburn’s comments in Geneva late on Tuesday.

Moscow and Tehran, which support Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, and opposition backer Ankara played a vital role in brokering the UN-led constitutional committee.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the committee needed the full backing of the international community because it “is the only game in town” capable of establishing a political solution to the Syrian war.

“This is the beginning of a very difficult process that is going to be extremely challenging to manage,” Mr Zarif said, adding that it must be owned and led by Syria.

The launch of the committee was challenging, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

“We have spent almost a year to enable the launch," Mr Cavusoglu said. "It has not been easy and will be difficult. All sides must agree to work together instead of seeing each other as enemies."

The committee, made up of 150 members from Syria’s three sides, is expected to meet for several days in the Swiss city, but it remains unclear long it will last.

Once all sides come to an agreement, 45 participants – 15 from each of the three groups – will draft the final document, while the larger body will be responsible for enforcing it.

Mr Rayburn stressed Washington’s concern at the situation in north-east Syria after Turkey launched an offensive to clear the area from Kurdish militias.

“We continue to call on the Turkish side to fully implement the provisions of the ceasefire agreement of October 17,” he said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the talks presented a “unique opportunity” for peace.

Mr Guterres said he expected the committee to work “in good faith” and that its efforts must be accompanied by a nationwide ceasefire for “a broader political process".

Repeated UN efforts to host talks on ending Syria’s eight-year civil war have largely failed.

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