Syria talks ‘big disappointment’, says UN envoy

UN envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen briefs the media ahead of the Syrian Constitutional Committee talks in Geneva on Sunday, October 12 2021. (Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

The United Nations special envoy for Syria said on Friday the sixth round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee talks in Geneva had been a “big disappointment” after failing to reach consensus on drafting a new constitution.

Geir Pedersen said the week-long talks between representatives from Syria’s government, opposition and civil society had “ups and downs” but ultimately “did not produce any understanding on commonalities” on how to redraft the war-torn country’s constitution.

The 45-person drafting committee has a mandate to draw up the new legal framework that would then lead to UN-supervised elections. Over the past few days, each side drafted proposed texts on issues including sovereignty, the rule of law and national security. They then came together on Friday to try to find common ground and reach what Pederson called a “provisional agreement” on how to move forward but with little success.

“I think it's fair to say the discussion today was a big disappointment,” he told reporters in Geneva. “We did not manage to achieve what we hoped to achieve, that we would have a good discussion on how to reach forward for some kind of consensus.”

The talks, the sixth round in two years and the first since the last meeting in Geneva in January, were held after the committee co-chairs agreed to “prepare and start drafting constitutional reform”, Pedersen told reporters ahead of the meeting on Sunday.

The meeting of the two co-chairs, who represent the Assad government and the opposition, for the first time ahead of the talks, raised hopes that the two sides could be ready to make progress.

However, Pedersen told reporters that the sides did not reach common ground and therefore could not see a way to move the process forward.

“We agreed it cannot continue like this, and we needed to develop a proper understanding of how we could move this into a proper substantial drafting process,” said Pedersen. He said that this would require building on “the little bit of trust that we managed to establish through this week”, although no date has yet been set for the next meeting.

A representative of the opposition told reporters in Geneva that the government representatives had rejected proposals by the Syrian opposition despite there being some common elements between the two.

“All three parties have to have the necessary will to reach an agreement and to reach a political solution, and unfortunately…this will is not present, at least from one party,” Hadi Albahra told reporters in Geneva.

During the last meeting in January, Pedersen said Assad's representatives had rejected proposals from the opposition and the envoy himself for moving the process forward.

“We need a political will to find the right way of dealing with this process so that we can start to minimise differences, and identify areas or commonalities,” said Pedersen.