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US interests in Syria’s Constitutional Committee in Geneva is met by al-Assad’s procrastination

Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, attends the opening session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva - 30 October 2019  (UN Photo / Violaine Martin)

Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, attends the opening session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva - 30 October 2019  (UN Photo / Violaine Martin)

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In light of the Syrian regime’s lack of interest in the political track and the meetings of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which was evident through the statements of the Syrian regime’s head, Bashar al-Assad, the United States of America (US) showed a clear interest in the meetings of the third round of negotiations of the committee. The round will take place on 24 August in Geneva, in the presence of delegations from the Syrian regime, the opposition, and Syrian civil society.

The interest was evident through the statements of James Jeffrey, US Special Representative for Syria as well as his diplomatic moves on the ground, and his expression of hope that the stagnant water of the committee would move, and the regime would be more involved in discussing the articles of the constitution.

On the other hand, the Syrians, whether opposition bodies or citizens, do not expect from the committee’s meetings any progress or a miracle to end the years of war, which is what Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria hinted at.

Jeffry hopes for two things

During the past week, and in video interviews with journalists, Jeffrey hinted to US interest in the meetings of the Syrian Constitutional Committee through two matters, the first of which was reflected in his statements about the importance of convening the Constitutional Committee and its role in ending the now almost decade-old Syrian internal conflict.

Jeffrey said in a press conference, on 13 August, that Washington is very much looking forward to seeing substantial progress in the Constitutional Committee, saying, “This is critical to resolving this conflict.”

Jeffrey expressed his hope for two things, which show that there is progress: the first is the duration of time that the Constitutional Committee meets. Jeffry hopes that the Constitutional Committee will meet for weeks, not for just a few days. He added that he wants to see a schedule of new meetings.

The second thing Jeffrey is looking for is to “move from discussing the first principles only, which is what the Damascus regime wants, which is their usual propaganda about their sovereignty and fight against terrorists, but rather real progress about talking about constitutional change. That is very important. 

Jeffrey also “urged all parties, including the Syrian regime, to continue this process “the Constitutional Committee” and overcome the terrible economic, military, and diplomatic impasses in which they find themselves.”

Second, Jeffrey’s diplomatic actions reflect American interest, as he began a visit to Turkey, on 22 August, to meet with Turkish officials in Ankara to discuss the Syrian file, and UN Security Council Resolution 2254 related to a ceasefire and a political settlement of the situation in Syria, as confirmed by the US State Department in a statement.

Jeffrey and Joel Rayburn, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Levant affairs and special envoy for Syria, will also meet with the representatives of the Syrian opposition and civil society in Istanbul to discuss the latest developments in Syria.

After that, Jeffrey leaves for Geneva for the first time to attend committee meetings and meets Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, and representatives of the guarantor countries (Turkey, Russia, and Iran), as well as Syrian opposition members participating in the meetings of the Constitutional Committee.

On the American interest in the committee, the spokesman for the opposition “High Negotiations Committee” and a member of the Constitutional Committee, Yahya al-Aridi, considered that Washington is interested and willing to find a political solution.

Al-Aridi said, in an interview with Enab Baladi, that “the Constitutional Committee is the only valid entry point now in the articles of Resolution 2254, which constitutes the road map on which the political process is based. He added as the US considered the regime’s involvement in this process as one of the items that contribute to lifting Caesar Act sanctions, noting that “the statements of the US envoy and his presence reflect the interest and desire to find a political solution.”

Pedersen and the opposition … little hope

In exchange for the American interest, Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, expected that the meetings of the Constitutional Committee will produce no miracle or a breakthrough. In contrast, the opposition expected the Syrian regime’s stalling policy.

Pedersen called, in a press conference held last Saturday at the United Nations office in Geneva, not to expect a “miracle” or “turning point” in the third round of the committee’s discussions, which he considered a “long and arduous process,” as it “would not constitute a solution to end the Syrian war.” 

This comes in light of al-Assad’s description, and he said the “political initiatives” have turned into “political mockery,” considering any political process a “noise and dust that are raised from time to time, making no significant change.” He highlighted in his speech that “the use of political initiatives aims to make us fall into the traps they set in order to achieve through them what they have failed through terrorism, and this will only be in their dreams. However, we will “believe the liar up to the door of his house and go no further than that.”

However, al-Assad confirmed, after he met with the Senior Assistant to Iranian Foreign Minister for Special Political Affairs Ali Asghar Khaji, that “Syria is on this track (the constitutional committee) despite the attempts of some of them to divert the committee from its tasks and the goals of its formation, and to seek to change its working mechanisms.”

Al-Aridi considered that al-Assad’s talk about his commitment to the process after the Iranian envoy’s visit “is not because Iran or he is fond of the process, but rather is a demonstration and hope for lifting or easing the sanctions. It is a political play.”

Regarding his expectations of the committee’s outcomes, al-Aridi believes that formal progress may occur. Still, in essence, procrastination and attempts to elude the situation will dominate, pending real pressure to implement the international resolution, so that everyone can get out of their crisis.

 

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