Latest round of Syrian constitutional talks fail to make headway

FILE PHOTO: U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen gestures while speaking during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia July 22, 2021. Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) -The latest week of talks between representatives of Syria's government, opposition and civil society aimed at drafting a new constitution failed to make any headway, the U.N. Special Envoy and main participants said on Friday.

Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen called the sixth round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee a "big disappointment" and said it did not find a common path to draft a constitution or agree on a date for the next round.

The drafting committee, comprising 45 representatives of Syria's government, opposition and civil society, has a mandate to draw up a new Charter leading to U.N.-supervised elections.

During the talks, the latest in a two-year effort aimed at reconciling the sides after Syria's devastating civil war, the sides presented draft constitutional texts outlining positions on issues including sovereignty, the army and the rule of law, Pedersen said.

"I think it fair to say that the discussion today was a big disappointment...we lacked a proper understanding on how to move that process forward," he told a news conference.

Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, said that its delegation had done "everything in its power to make this round a success" - and put the blame squarely on the opposition delegation.

“We listened to all proposals made by some of the participants which unfortunately some of which were far from reality and even reflected malign thoughts and aggressive agendas," Kuzbari told a separate press conference.

He added that "the opposition factions were attempting to legitimise the Turkish and U.S. occupation of Syrian territory”.

Hadi Al-Bahra, the Syrian opposition representative, pointed the finger at the government delegation, telling a separate press conference: "There were not even attempts to achieve a consensus."

The opposition sought a halt to the fighting and the start of a real political process, including a new Constitution, he said.

He added that the current constitution "legitimises the dictatorship and the monopoly, and this is what made the president of the Republic chief of the armed forces and chief of the higher judicial council and he’s the one who appoints judges in the higher Constitutional court".

A Western diplomat, speaking earlier in the week, said: "We hope very much that this new round will change the atmosphere, but so far I haven’t seen any sign in the behaviour of the regime vis-a-vis its population that might make us believe that there is something new which has been decided."

(Additional reporting by Cecile MantovaniEditing by Frances Kerry)

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