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Syrian sides meet in Geneva to discuss possible new constitution

Syrian MP Ahmad al-Kuzbari (C) wearing a protective face mask arrives with the Syrian government delegation for a meeting of Syria Constitutional Committee at the United Nations Office in Geneva on August 24, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee have met at the United Nations Headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva to discuss a possible new constitution aimed at paving the way for a political ultimate solution to the ongoing conflict in the war-torn Arab country.  

The week-long session that kicked off on Monday is the first meeting between Syrian government and opposition negotiators since a failed attempt at talks last November.   

Delegations from both sides arrived at the United Nations in separate minivans, with Ahmad al-Kuzbari heading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government delegation, and Hadi al-Bahra leading up the opposition delegation. They did not speak to reporters.

An unnamed UN spokeswoman confirmed shortly before noon that the week-long discussion had begun.

The members of the constitutional committee, which took almost two years of consultations to be formed, are tasked with reforming the Arab country's constitution before it is put to the vote of the Syrian people.

Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition met in early November last year to discuss a future constitution, part of plans for a political settlement to end eight and a half years of war.

However, a second round of talks planned for later that month was never held due to disagreement on the agenda.

Since then, talks have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said on Sunday that he had met with co-chairs of the government and opposition delegations over the weekend.

"I am looking forward to a week of substantial discussions on the agenda and moving the process forward," he said on Twitter.

Also on Friday, Pedersen stressed the urgent need to build confidence between the parties.

He also said nobody expects "a miracle or a breakthrough," adding that the meeting is about looking towards identifying areas where progress might be made.

Composed of 50 members from the Damascus government, 50 opposition members, and 50 independent figures chosen by the United Nations, the committee is mandated, within the context of a UN-facilitated Geneva process, to draft and prepare for popular approval constitutional reforms paving the way for a political settlement in the post-war Arab country.

In September 2019, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said an agreement had been reached between the government of Syria and the so-called Syrian Negotiation Commission – an umbrella opposition group supported by Saudi Arabia, on “a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee.”

Damascus maintains that the constitutional committee should be a purely Syrian affair to be decided by the Syrian people alone without any foreign interference.

Pedersen, too, has stressed the full commitment of the UN to the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Arab country.

An agreement was first made for the formation of the UN-backed Syrian Constitutional Committee in the Russian town of Sochi in 2018.

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