The “Mini Group on Syria” Puts “Astana Trio” to the Test
The “Mini Group on Syria,” formed in 2015, as a part of the US-led coalition against the “Islamic State,” in Syria and Iraq, including the ministers of foreign affairs of U.S., France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Germany, has came up with a number of principles about the future of the solution in Syria, both non-official and non-public, through a political scene, translated as putting the “Astana” trio, Turkey, Iran and Russia, to the test, which have intensified their meetings in the past a few days, as to accelerate the formation of the Constitutional Committee, the foundation of which was decided under the “Sochi” conference, Russia, as to highlight the political track which Syria seeks.
The “Mini Group’s” principles came at a “sensitive” political and military condition that Syria is going through, for the battles are about to end in Idlib, and an actual step is about to be undertaken towards the political resolution process, that follows a vision divided among the five states and the “Astana” trio.
Going back to January 2018, we find that the currently proposed principles resemble, to a large extent, the western terms announced at the French capital, Paris, by U.S. and France, which suggested that de Mistura impose “pressure” on the delegations of the opposition and the Syrian regime as to conduct essential negotiations concerning the constitutional reform, in addition to practical standards for the UN supervision of the elections and the creation of a safe and neutral space in Syria as to hold them, including election campaigns “ without fear” and procedures of trust building.
The media advisor of the “Higher Negotiations Committee,” Yahya al-Aridi, said that the “Mini Group’s” new document’s content is clear for everyone, and that it has some valuable aspects, which has resolute practical and on ground-related feature and other controversial points that must be discussed in the upcoming days.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Aridi said that the Syrian opposition is already discussing the controversial points with the states, and that some principles might be added to the document and others might be cancelled, pointing out that “despite this it remains an advanced point in relation to the practical application of the main axes, especially the issue of the constitution and the futuristic elections.”
New Solution of Four Files
According to the vision of the five states on the futuristic Syrian government, the latter must not sponsor “terrorism” or provide it with a shelter, not to possess massive destruction weapons, and the principal point is that it should cut its relationship with the Iranian regime and its affiliated armed groups without threats to the neighboring countries.
The document has also addressed the issue of refugees and necessitated the presence of conditions convenient for their return home in a safe and voluntary manner, preserving their dignity and with the participation of the United Nations.
The political process had a large share of the states’ vision, which stressed that it be undertaken under the auspice of the United Nations according to the Security Council’s resolution no.c2254. The political process should also lead to constitutional reforms and elections also under the supervision of the United Nations, as well as realization of accountability, transitional justice and real national reconciliation.
In relation to the reconstruction file in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime, the “Mini Group” has linked the process to the presence of a credible political process, which definitely leads to constitutional reform and elections under the supervision of the United Nations and that satisfy the donor sates.
It pointed out that the formation of a constitutional committee under the auspices and supervision of the United Nations is the appropriate mechanism to discuss constitutional reforms and elections and a solution to the Syrian crisis, so the United Nations has to call for the constitutional committee to convene as soon as possible.
The constitutional reforms, according to the document, provided for the amendment of the powers of the president to achieve greater balance of power and ensure the independence of central and regional government institutions. The government should be headed by a prime minister with greater powers, with a clear separation of powers giving to the prime minister and the president. The assignment of the prime minister and the members of the government must be done in a manner that does not require the approval of the president.
In their principles, the “Mini Group” recommended the implementation of civil control of the security apparatus and its reform, with clearly defined powers, ensuring the transfer of authority and decentralization on the basis of regions, as well as removing restrictions on the possibility of running for elections, in particular to allow refugees, IDPs and exiles to run for official positions, including the presidency.
Negative and Positive Aspects
The “Mini Group” has supposedly handed over its principles to a solution in Syria to the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, during a meeting he had held in Geneva. A media report said that U.S. officials have discussed the principles included in the document with opposition figures and European officials during a visit to Brussels before heading to Geneva for a meeting with de Mistura.
The media spokesman for the opposition delegation to “Astana” Ayman al-Assemi said that the principles presented have positive and negative aspects, stressing that they are informal, meaning that the “Mini Group” is trying to test the actors of the “Astana” track, namely Turkey, Russia and Iran.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Assemi said that it is possible to cancel items and approve others, which is related to the fact that the terms have not yet been declared officially. The document has more political significance than being a comprehensive solution to Syria, as it coincided with the shuttle meetings of the “Astana” tripartite.
The negative side to the principles, according to al-Assemi, came from the fact that the document exceeded the desire of the Syrian people to choose the solution they want and the form of government and the state. It also surpassed the 12 items that de Mistura spoke about and which included the construction of the Syrian security apparatus anew, for the current document proposes a term providing for the reform of security apparatus only.
Al-Assemi explained that the current principles talked about a parliamentary regime in Syria in the future, and this process in a state emerging from the war is considered destroying, for the state will resemble Lebanon and Iraq, and thus it will be a failure.
The positive aspect of the document concerns the constitutional reforms, as the powers will not remain in the hands of the presidency, as indicated by a basic point, according to al-Assemi, which is the civil control over the security apparatus.
The issue of decentralization has not been defined in detail by the principles of the “Mini Group”. The Syrian opposition considers that decentralization excellent, if not administrative, but if the meaning is political decentralization, it will be a big problem and thus will lead to the division of Syria.
The leaked U.S. document is the “draft” announced by the Paris meeting on January 24, 2018, which the opposition refused to discuss before its meeting in Vienna at the end of January. The Syrian opposition figure, Samira al-Masalama, commented on the leaked document. She explained that it was the same “draft” announced by the Paris meeting, about which the opposition was divided. Part of it rejected its discussion prior to its meeting in Vienna at the end of January, in the context of the Sochi dialogue, while another section of the opposition accepted the outcome of the Paris meeting without modification.
On “Facebook,” al-Masalama said that the current reality “is facing the same entities that refuse initiatives to cry about them later on, starting from Geneva 1 to the draft,” wondering “what is the secret behind the rapid disapproval, and the blood shed will be the responsibility of whom after the regime and its Russian and Iranian supporters?”
Contradiction with the Russian Perspective at the Top of the Proposal
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has previously expressed Moscow’s readiness to seek ways of understanding and cooperation between the formula of “Astana” and the formula of the “Mini Group” on Syria and pointed out that any cooperation must be based on international law and previous resolutions that emphasize the need to respect unity, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.
Al-Aridi believes that the current political scene of Syria is summarized by two approaches, the first is of the “Mini Group” and the other is Russia’s, and the two are consulting.
He believes that Russia will not easily agree to the principles outlined in the document, but it is the only way out.
The document, which mainly forwards America’s vision, addressed the issue of reforming the security apparatus, providing that it be subject to civil authority and waiving the immunity of it. It also has to function in a neutral manner while succumbing to accountability and imputability.
The document’s content differs from that of the “Sochi” document, which spoke of “an army and security services under the Constitution,” while de Mistura’s document referred to a “professional army and the subordination of the security services to human rights law.”
The Syrian opposition calls for a political transition through forming a transitional government body without Assad, providing that the rest of the issues be discussed later after the implementation of resolution no. 2254 and the “Geneva 1” statement, which the Syrian regime rejects.