Lost between Riyadh and Geneva: What is the fate of the Constitutional Committee’s ninth round

UN Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum - March 1, 2024 (Antalya Diplomacy Forum)

UN Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum - March 1, 2024 (Antalya Diplomacy Forum)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

Talk of holding the ninth round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee has fizzled out after a noticeable escalation and a concentrated wave of meetings and statements in this regard that lasted since the end of last February.

This bombshell of statements was ignited by the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, when he announced during a briefing before the UN Security Council that he would send out invitations for a ninth round at the end of April, expressing hope that the Syrian parties would respond positively. He also urged the main international parties to support the UN’s efforts as a facilitator, and to refrain from interfering in the gathering of Syrians.

Pedersen also clarified that the Constitutional Committee alone cannot resolve the conflict, and Resolution “2254” addresses a wide range of issues, reminding of the clear ideas on confidence-building measures, “step-by-step”, and addressing the core elements of Resolution “2254”.

These considerations were ignored by the Syrian regime on both media and political levels, influenced by its alignment with Russia’s refusal to return to Switzerland (Geneva), given that the latter sided with the Europeans and took an opposing stance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, leading Moscow to consider Switzerland no longer neutral in its stance, resulting in subsequent actions and positions.

In the midst of this, Pedersen visited the Syrian capital, Damascus, on March 17, meeting with Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, and proposed Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, as an alternative venue for these meetings, which seemed possible if both parties and the potential host state agreed.

The UN envoy also emphasized the need to resume the work of the Constitutional Committee, as the current circumstances in Syria are linked to the political process. He stated, “We all know that to move away from the security challenge and the economic challenge, we need to make progress on the political front, and I’m afraid I have nothing new to report in this regard.”

Divergent positions

The regime did not provide explicit approval of the idea and proposal that came after Mekdad’s visit to Riyadh on March 14. However, the Syrian opposition welcomed the position, according to Enab Baladi, quoting the Syrian Negotiation Commission. Following this, the head of the Negotiation Commission, Badr Jamous, commented that he informed “the brothers in Saudi Arabia” of the commission’s desire to have the meetings in Riyadh, which occurred at the beginning of the negotiations when there was a rejection of returning to Geneva.

Jamous added, “After that, the special envoy proposed Nairobi, and we agreed to that, and currently he invited us to Geneva and we agreed to that as well.”

This was after the Negotiation Commission announced in a closing statement of its meeting on March 8 and 9, that it officially agreed to attend the meetings and send a delegation to participate between April 22 and 26, before Riyadh was proposed as an alternative.

Pedersen also made a phone call on March 25 to the Saudi Foreign Minister, during which they discussed the latest developments concerning the situation in Syria, on various fronts, and the efforts being made to resolve the Syrian crisis, according to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The call did not result in a clear Saudi stance or reveal any statements clarifying the future of the meetings, whether they will take place in Riyadh or not.

Is there a ninth round?

International belief in the necessity to hasten the resumption of the stalled political track since about two years ago (the eighth round in June 2022) did not validate this path, and no clarification has been issued regarding the existence of a ninth round or not, or the location of its convening if it were to be held, as April nears its end and the supposed date for the round approaches.

The vice president of the opposition’s Syrian National Coalition and a member of the mini-group in the Constitutional Committee from the opposition list, Dima Moussa, told Enab Baladi that the ninth round will not be held, because the Syrian regime refused the invitation sent by Pedersen to hold the ninth round in Geneva, and so far, the issue has not been re-proposed, whether in terms of holding it in Geneva or proposing another location.

Regarding replacing Riyadh with Geneva, Moussa explained that Pedersen did not officially propose any other place, neither Riyadh nor others, after the regime’s refusal to accept the invitation to hold the ninth round in Geneva.

An informed source on the workings of the Constitutional Committee, who preferred to remain unnamed, told Enab Baladi that there is no likelihood of a ninth round in April, regardless of the venue.

The source indicated that the estimates suggest no round is forthcoming, with no such proposal being discussed within the Syrian National Coalition.

Regional variables influence

Regional conditions and sudden political events weigh heavily on the planned political tracks and roadmaps, freezing some, undermining others, and leaving some without a determined fate, until a return to calming and regular political climates. One such influencing condition was the Israeli bombing that targeted the Israeli consulate building in Damascus at the beginning of the current April.

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike targeted the building of the Iranian consulate adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, killing two commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, five advisory officers in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and six Syrians, resulting from the complete destruction of the building.

Communications, meetings, visits, statements, condemnations, threats, responses to threats, attempts at calming, and speculations about the nature of possible retaliation occupied the public opinion, press, and politicians at regional and international levels, leading to Iran’s response.

On the evening of April 13, Iran launched from its territory armed drones and missiles toward targets in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The spokesperson for the Israeli army, Daniel Hagari, stated that Iran fired in total more than 300 projectiles at Israel, including 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles, with 99% of them intercepted by air defenses.

Tehran quickly announced the end of its retaliation, allowing Israel to take the helm and threaten a response to the targeting, which was countered with the assistance of Western and Arab countries, such as Jordan, Britain, and the United States.

After meetings of top Israeli officials, who would determine the nature of the response and its specifics, and presenting misleading media schedules for the response, the commander-in-chief of the Iranian army, General Abdul Rahim Mousavi, announced fire directed at several flying objects over the city of Isfahan, confirming that the sounds heard were due to air defense systems firing at those objects, causing no incident or damage, noting that the concerned experts are studying the subject and will announce the matter after receiving the results.

The Iranian statements, which downplayed the significance of the attacks, and the absence of an Israeli escalation in statements as well, suggested the possibility of folding the direct escalation chapter between the parties, after discussions of a potential transition to a direct open confrontation that would pit Israel against Iran this time, not against the proxies it uses in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and speculations suggesting the use of Syrian territory as a launch pad for Iranian attacks or as a subject for Israeli retaliation.


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