UN envoy plays down hopes for new Syria constitution talks

Few expect any breakthroughs at seventh round of talks between Damascus and opposition figures

Many analysts say Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has few reasons to negotiate with the opposition as his forces have recaptured much of the war-ravaged country. AFP

The UN's peace envoy for Syria on Friday said a committee representing Syria’s government and the opposition will meet for a seventh round of talks in Geneva next month over draft constitutional reforms.

Geir Pedersen told the UN Security Council that talks among the 45-member committee would start on March 21 — but played down hopes of a breakthrough in what has been a drawn out process.

The body is split three ways between the Syrian government, the opposition and civil society. It has met six times since October 2019.

Many analysts say Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has few reasons to negotiate as his forces have recaptured much of the war-ravaged country.

“The parties’ positions are substantively far apart and narrowing their differences will inevitably be an incremental process,” Mr Pedersen told UN diplomats.

Mr Pedersen urged panellists to make compromises and work “expeditiously and continuously to produce results” to end Syria’s war, which grinds on and claims lives even as its front lines barely shift.

“It is plain that there is a stalemate, that there is acute suffering and that a political solution is the only way out,” said Mr Pedersen.

“This requires a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process, which must be supported by constructive international diplomacy — however hard that is and especially right now.”

Mohamed Abushahab, the deputy UN ambassador for the UAE, which holds a two-year seat on the council, welcomed the fresh constitutional talks as a way forward for rival camps to tackle “more complex challenges” down the road.

“The reality that Syria is an Arab country and that its stability is linked to the stability of the Arab region cannot be ignored,” said Mr Abushahab.

He stressed the “importance of an increased Arab role, as this approach is the most viable for supporting mediation efforts … with the aim of resolving the crisis and preserving the security of the region”.

The UN’s road map to peace in Syria, which is backed by the Security Council, calls for the drafting of a new constitution and UN-supervised elections with all Syrians, including those abroad, allowed to participate.

A 150-member committee was created to draft a new constitution at a Russia-hosted peace conference in January 2018, though it was not formed until September 2019. A smaller, 45-member group is doing the actual drafting.

Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011, has killed half a million people and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million, including more than five million refugees that have spilt across the country’s borders.

Though fighting has subsided in recent months, pockets of territory controlled by the Syrian opposition still exist and are home to millions of people.

Updated: February 25, 2022, 4:46 PM