Russia makes Geneva a wedge in the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s talks
Enab Baladi – Diana Rahima
After the regular meetings of the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC), talks were postponed by a decision of the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, and the Committee ceased its work indefinitely.
On 16 July, a spokeswoman for Pedersen’s office, journalist Jenifer Fenton, said on her Twitter account that Pedersen regrets that “the 9th session of the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee, led and owned by Syrians and United Nations-facilitated, in Geneva (25 to 29 of July 2022) is no longer possible”.
The joint chairman of the Constitutional Committee, Hadi al-Bahra, earlier announced that he had received an official letter stating that the 9th round of the Committee’s meetings had been postponed at the request of the Syrian regime delegation.
Russia wishes to change venue for negotiations
On 16 June, the Russian president’s special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, suggested three Arab capitals that could host Syrian Constitutional Committee meetings instead of the Swiss Geneva.
Lavrentiev said Russia had proposed relocating the venue for the Constitutional Committee meetings from Geneva to Muscat, Abu Dhabi, or Algiers, according to the Russian Sputnik News Agency.
The envoy noted that no clear agreement had been reached on relocating the Constitutional Committee’s headquarters. Continuing to work in Geneva had become difficult for Russia because of Switzerland’s “unfriendly and hostile attitude towards Russia,” he said.
In response to accusations by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia that the country was no longer impartial after supporting European sanctions on Russia, the United Nations, in turn, affirmed the neutrality of Switzerland, which is hosting the meetings of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
“We reaffirm Switzerland’s impartiality as a platform for much of the work that the United Nations is carrying out,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the United Nations, at a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in New York City, quoted by UN News.
“We want to emphasize substantive talks, and we will see what happens later. At this point, Pedersen will continue his discussions with the parties”, he added.
In response to a question about whether the UN Special Envoy for Syria is looking for a “new platform for talks” after announcing earlier the cancellation of the 9th round of talks in the Swiss city of Geneva, Haq explained that he had no other platform to announce at this stage.
Freezing the Geneva process
Enab Baladi met with the joint chairman of the Constitutional Committee, Hadi al-Bahra, to talk about the most important developments concerning the Constitutional Committee and the possibility of reviving the negotiations between the two main parties of the Committee, the opposition and the regime delegations, which, along with the civil society delegation, constitute the Committee’s main poles.
Al-Bahra said that the Constitutional Committee was formed under the mandate of the Security Council resolution within the UN Resolution N. 2254 and as a key part of the UN-sponsored political process.
Thus, the Committee operates under UN facilitation and can only be under its auspices and supervision.
Its meetings shall be held in one of the main United Nations headquarters countries. Even the political process in Syria was called the Geneva process after the name of the capital itself, which is not the result of the moment but rather began in 2014.
Consequently, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) believes that the only logical solution to the political process in Geneva is for the Committee’s talks to remain in the Swiss capital.
Al-Bahra considered that the interference of a foreign country in the location of the Committee’s headquarters was unacceptable and that it contradicted Russia’s claims that the process in Geneva was Syrian – Syrian and that no country had the right to impose its own agendas.
Al-Bahra refuses to have Russia as a decision-maker regarding the venue for the talks. It is an entirely Syrian decision, he says.
He also explicated the reason for the delay, saying that the Constitutional Committee had reached a stage at which it was necessary to change the way it dealt with its discussions and outputs. It must therefore become a productive mechanism. However, the regime and the Russians did not have the answer, which led them to disrupt or obstruct the Committee’s work.
When Pedersen sent the invitation to the Syrian parties, he included a series of proposals to activate the Constitutional Committee’s discussions and in order to achieve results. He asked the Syrian parties to reply to the proposals submitted either by accepting them, adding to them, or presenting alternatives to them.
The HNC presented and added to the proposals of the United Nations. On the other hand, the regime did not present any suggestions and did not even take them seriously.
During an interview with Russia Today (RT) channel on 9 June, the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, wondered as to “how a Syrian-Syrian dialogue with a Syrian party and a Turkish party could take place.” “Here lies the problem, and that is why we got nowhere because the first party expresses the aspirations of the Syrian people, and the other party expresses the aspirations of the Turkish government,” he said.
He considered that the Constitutional Committee’s aim is to draft a constitution. According to al-Assad, a constitution “expresses the desires, morals, aspirations, and culture of the Syrian people as a compromise between the various segments and currents in society.”
With regard to the ability of the regime and Russia to disrupt the work of the Constitutional Committee, al-Bahra considers that they cannot fully disrupt its work and that they “may only be able to buy some time.”
The opposition’s role in how to build its policies with friendly and brotherly countries to create adverse pressure towards activating the political process is followed by the HNC, which held meetings with several friendly countries.
Next September, a meeting will be held in Geneva to discuss the Constitutional Committee’s issue at the United Nations plenary meetings, some three years after its establishment, without concrete results.
The Syrian Constitutional Committee was established in 2019, including a 150-member body comprising 50 representatives of the Syrian regime, 50 representatives of the opposition, and 50 of civil society.
Fifteen members from each bloc represent the mini-drafting Committee tasked with deciding on a new draft constitution.
Each round of meetings has discussions on the principles put forward by each delegation. The regime delegation’s submissions often focus on controversial details aimed at procrastinating, most recently in the 8th round when the topic of preserving state institutions, primarily the army, was raised.
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