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6th round of Syrian constitution meetings begin in Geneva

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The sixth round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee meetings at the United Nations Geneva office began Monday under the chairpersonship of the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen after the Syrian opposition and the government representatives of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Sunday agreed to launch a drafting process for constitutional reform in the country.

The members of the “Middle Third” of the constitutional committee, consisting of 15 members apiece from the Bashar Assad regime, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Syrian opposition, came together again in Geneva early in the morning after a nearly nine-month hiatus.

Before the committee started its first day sessions, the parties presented their proposals to the U.N. regarding the basic principles of a new constitution that will determine the future of Syria.

The main agenda of the sixth round meetings was determined as “the drafting of the new Syrian constitution.”

The Syrian Constitutional Committee has agreed to start drafting a new constitution, Pedersen announced Sunday.

“The two co-chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the committee’s sixth session.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria,” he added.

Pedersen also said that he met representatives of the Assad regime, NGOs and the Syrian opposition separately Sunday morning.

“But then also another very important meeting took place, and that was for the first time, the two co-chairs, the one nominated by the government and the other nominated by the opposition, were sitting down together with me for a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us,” he added.

He said that the drafting committee has met five times, but after the fifth meeting this January, it concluded that they were “not making sufficient progress.”

Asked by Anadolu Agency (AA) how many more rounds of meetings are expected before a constitution is ready, he said: “Very short answer to that, I don’t know. We will see how the meeting proceeds this week and then you (will) know.”

During Pedersen’s meeting with Hadi al-Bahra, the committee’s opposition co-chair, and Ahmad Nabil al-Kuzbari, the regime co-chair, Alessandra Vellucci, head of the U.N. Information Service in Geneva, was also present.

The committee meetings, which started in October 2019 with 150 members, are the first concrete step to draft a new constitution to determine Syria’s future.

Syria has been embroiled in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Syria’s 10-year conflict has killed over 350,000 people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million people, including more than 5 million refugees mostly in neighboring countries.

A round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva in January failed as the sides could not agree on how to engage. After the fifth round of negotiations failed in late January, Pedersen hinted the Syrian regime delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.

In January, Pedersen said that Assad’s representatives had rejected proposals by the Syrian opposition as well as the envoy’s own ideas for moving the constitutional process forward.

“Since then … I have been … trying to be able to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward. And I am very pleased to say that we have reached such a consensus,” he said Sunday.

Western diplomats say Russia prodded Damascus in recent weeks to show flexibility in the talks, and Pedersen has made two trips to Moscow in recent months.

“The Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process but the committee in itself will not be able to solve the political crisis,” he said.

Pedersen announced late September an agreement on the “methodology” for a sixth round. It’s based on three pillars: respect for rules of procedure, the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles” ahead of the meeting and regular meetings of the co-chairs with him before and during the meeting.

At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution.

The 2012 U.N. road map to peace in Syria calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with U.N.-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.

The United States and several Western allies accused Assad of deliberately stalling and delaying the drafting of a new constitution until after presidential elections to avoid a U.N.-supervised vote, as called for by the Security Council.

In late May, Assad was reelected in what the regime called a landslide for a fourth seven-year term. The West and his opposition described the election as illegitimate and a sham.

Pedersen said the need for “a genuine intra-Syrian dialogue” was reportedly discussed by Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently in Moscow, “and through this, a genuine process of Syrian political reform.”

After support from ally Russia, Assad has recovered most of Syria, but significant areas remain outside his control: Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and northwest and U.S. forces are stationed in the YPG-controlled east and northeast. The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist group.

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