UN Syria peace envoy ‘disappointed’ by Damascus stonewalling

Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen lamented another week of no progress towards a Syrian constitution

UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen leaves a press conference following the conclusion of the fifth round of Syrian Constitutional Committee session on January 29, 2021 at the United Nations Offices in Geneva. / AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI
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The UN’s peace envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen on Friday expressed frustration with the government of President Bashar Al Assad, saying there had been no progress on talks over a new constitution to help the country recover from years of bloodshed.

Mr Pedersen offered reporters in Geneva an "open, frank and direct assessment" that this past week of discussions on drafting a constitution to pave the way for UN-supervised elections in Syria had been a "disappointment".

“We can’t continue like this,” said the Norwegian diplomat.

“I set out a few things I thought we should be able to achieve before we started this meeting. And I'm afraid we did not manage to achieve these things.”

Mr Pedersen said the Syrian government co-chair of the Constitutional Committee had rejected two proposals about the format for negotiations, derailing progress at the fifth round of UN-led talks since the process began in October 2019.

No date has been set for future meetings. Mr Pedersen said he would discuss the issue with Russia, Turkey, Iran and the new US administration of President Joe Biden, and brief the UN Security Council on February 9.

Millions of people have left Syria and millions more have been internally displaced since a government crackdown on protesters in 2011 led to a multi-front civil war that has dragged in Russia, Iran, Turkey, the US and others.

The 45-member body of the Constitutional Committee is split three ways between the Syrian government, the opposition and civil society. Many analysts say Mr Al Assad has had little reason to negotiate as his forces have recaptured much of the country.