The Civil Society List Torments the Syrian Regime at “Astana” Talks

The delegates of the guarantor states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, during the “Astana” talks – May 2017 (Reuters)

The delegates of the guarantor states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, during the “Astana” talks – May 2017 (Reuters)


The 11th round of the “Astana” talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition ended result[less], as no marked outcomes touched upon the top issues of the Syrian affair, relating to the formation of a Constitutional Committee of 150 members, supposed to write a new Syrian constitution under the supervision of the United Nations.

The talks, held for two days, came up with a concluding statement, almost identical with those issued at former rounds, as it similarly called for the preservation of Syria’s unity, its independence and the safety of its territory, except for assuring the importance of the ceasefire in Idlib governorate and the persistence of the Turkish-Russian deal, announced on September 17, which was a new addition to the Talks’ former statements.

Staffan de Mistura Regrets that No Marked Development was Made

The United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura discussed the obstacles that for months have been hindering the formation of the Constitutional Committee, while the opposition pointed a finger of blame at the regime and its allies for the procrastination engulfing the process. However, de Mistura was relying on the Astana talks as to shorten the distance between the two sides’ visions and reach a deal on the mechanisms needed to progress on the issue of the Constitutional Committee.

Nonetheless, the concluding statement of the latest round of the Astana talks did not define a date for the formation of the Committee, and the guarantor states, Russia, Iran and Turkey, only stressed their resolve to push the efforts seeking the formation of the Committee and the need to declare it as soon as possible.

For his part, de Mistura declared the failure of the talks and expressed his regret that no marked development was achieved concerning the formation of the Committee.

In a statement issued by his office on Thursday, November 29, de Mistura said that he “deeply regrets that … there was no tangible progress in overcoming the 10-month stalemate on the composition of the constitutional committee.

“This was the last occasion of an Astana meeting in 2018 and has, sadly for the Syrian people, been a missed opportunity to accelerate the establishment of a credible, balanced and inclusive, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated constitutional committee,” de Mistura’s statement said.

The United States of America held the Syrian regime responsible for the failure of the composition of the Committee and considered that the Astana talks has reached a dead end, according to the State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who said that “For 10 months, the so-called Astana/Sochi initiative on the Syrian Constitutional Committee , created to advance the goals laid out within UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2254, has produced a stalemate.”

“Russia and Iran continue to use the process to mask the Assad regime’s refusal to engage in the political process as outlined under UNSCR 2254.  We all should work to achieve the goals as laid out in UNSCR 2254 to include de-escalation and a reinvigorated political process, but strongly believe success is not possible without the international community holding Damascus fully accountable for the lack of progress in resolving the conflict,” Nauert added in her statement on Friday, November 30.

The Syrian Regime Refuses the Third List

The drafting of a new Syrian constitution was addressed during the “Sochi” conference in Russia, last December 30, and an agreement was arrived at as to compose a Constitutional Committee of representatives of the Syrian regime and the opposition to modify the current Constitution according to UN resolution No. “2254.”

Following this, de Mistura sought to form a committee of 150 names (50 to be chosen by the regime, 50 by the opposition and 50 others to be chosen by UN of experts and civil society representatives)

Both the regime and the opposition have handed in their final lists last July to de Mistura, but the core of the dispute lies in the Syrian regime and its allies’ attempt at imposing specific names onto the third list, the one consisting of the Civil Society representatives, which the UN special envoy refused.

During the talks, Russia has tried to impose certain names on the Constitutional Committee’ formation, but de Mistura refused this as it violates the legitimacy of the Committee, Salim al-Khatib, representative of the National Coalition and a member of the Political Committee at Astana Talks, told Enab Baladi.

The UN special envoy set up six standards, he did not define, to accept the names of the third segment of the Committee and agreed to approve the Russia-proposed names only upon meeting the standards refused by Russia. This hindered the composition of the committee, al-Khatib added.

The Committee’s Composition Checkmates the Syrian Regime

Many questions concerning the Syrian regime and its allies’ refusal of the Committee and obstructing its formations seek answers, one of which is an explanation given by source, informed of the composition process, especially the list representing the civil society, saying that the Syrian regime does not want a  Constitutional Committee that derive its legitimacy from the United Nations, as it wants to be the source of legitimacy to replicate  the changes it made to the Constitution in 2012. For this reason, it is hindering the formation of the Committee by objecting to the names, alleging that there is not a balance between the pro-regime and the opposition representatives’ [shares].

The source, on condition of anonymity, told Enab Baladi that the presence of a Constitutional Committee stands for an original authority not one that derive its power from the president. With the absence of the third block, the civil society’s list, the regime can guarantee that discussions will last for years due to an absent majority because the existence of such a block means that the majority of the two thirds has been realized, especially since the names of the third list, who are independent, will address issues such as democracy, fair representation and transfer of power.

The source believes that the formation of the Committee with these two thirds stands for a radical change that equals the departure of the regime, the reason why the Syrian regime and it ally Iran protested the names suggested for the Constitutional Committee alleging that they are not objective.

As for Russia, it wants the Committee to be formed and approved the presented names of the third block in general; it is also pressuring the regime in this context, but it cannot reach the stage of giving up onto its two allies, the regime and Iran. Thus, “it is imposing pressure but in proportion.”

Russia is trying to return to the international landscape as a major power through Syria as a gate by meeting its commitments and realizing its promises before the international community in relation to solving the Syrian issue politically, holding elections, and changing the constitution as it declared at the “Sochi” conference. However, this does not mean surrendering it to the Syrian opposition; but rather, it tries to form the Constitutional Committee, which might lead to a slow change in Syria that establishes its presence, not a rapid transfer that threatens its existence there, according to the source.

The informed source expects the failure of the composition of the Constitutional Committee without a massive Russian pressure on the regime, saying that a political resolution will be distant in case the Constitutional Committee is not formed before the end of 2018.

Russia’s Syria negotiator Aleksandr Lavrentyev, at a press conference following the conference last Thursday, said that working on the formation of a Syrian Constitutional Committee is about to end.

On November 20, de Mistura threatened to stop his efforts on the formation of the Constitutional Committee in case a deal was not reached prior to 2018’s end.

Between de Mistura’s threats and the obstacles set up by the regime and its allies, the Syrian people await to see how the situation will unfold in the a few upcoming weeks, which will structure the practical political features of Syria.

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