Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

'Guarantors' Adopt Quotas for Syria's Constitution

'Guarantors' Adopt Quotas for Syria's Constitution

Thursday, 1 February, 2018 - 08:00
Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria, at the end of a plenary session of the Congress of Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi. (Reuters)

Syria's participation of 1,200-member delegation and the boycott of Syrian High Negotiation Committee (SHNC) in Sochi did not change the outcome of the conference given that the actual negotiations took place in rooms and corridors in the absence of Syrians.

The three "guarantors" Russia, Iran and Turkey, agreed with the United Nations on the final communique and that each state nominates 50 members to the constitutional committee to be approved or rejected by the international envoy Staffan de Mistura, in what is more like a "tripartite allocation" of the future Syrian constitution.

Damascus, which could not take responsibility for the failure of Sochi, is "angry" with the outcomes of the conference. This was evident through all official and pro-Damascus media outlets which published the final communique of the conference without its political introduction and conclusion and modified the official document agreed upon, according to the statement of "three guarantors".

The results of "Sochi" were completed even before the conference began, as sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterich held marathon talks last weekend after SHNC decided to boycott the conference. The UN linked its participation to a series of conditions, including limiting the conference to one session without the formation of institutional committees hence repeating the scenario of "series of Astana meetings".

The UN also wanted the international envoy to determine the names and mechanisms of the constitutional committee, select its members from the list provided by the guarantors, and endorse the 12 political principles prepared by de Mistura which head of Syrian government delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, had rejected discussing in the previous two rounds of the Geneva negotiations.

The positive surprise was that what was agreed upon between the United Nations and Russia was indeed achieved. Attempts were made to change the draft of the agreed statement, but they failed especially when de Mistura waved the possibility of withdrawing from the opening session.

Consequently, the conference was neither affected by the objections and demands of Damscus delegation, nor by the boycott of representatives of the armed factions and their return from Sochi airport to Ankara, given that Turkish delegation spoke on behalf of the opposition, while Tehran and Moscow spoke on behalf of Damascus.

It was noted that the Iranian news agency (IRNA) and Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) published on Wednesday the final statement of Sochi according to their interpretation, as the statement lacked the introduction and the conclusion that discusses the mechanism of forming the constitutional committee.

According to SANA, "it was agreed that the ratio in the current constitutional discussion committee will be two thirds supported by the government and one third by the other parties to discuss the current constitution. The committee consists of 150 members who are representatives of the Syrian National Dialogue Conference."

It was also noted that SANA amended the final communique, stating that it "stressed the importance of maintaining the army and armed forces, and carry out its duty in accordance with the constitution, including the protection of national borders and people from external threats and fighting against terrorism to protect citizens, where required."

It added that national security and intelligence institutions should focus on maintaining national security and act in accordance.

The official document of Sochi called for "building a strong army which exercises its duties in accordance with the constitution" and that intelligence and national security services should protect human rights in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and the law.

The document added: "The use of force must be limited to a mandate from the relevant official institutions."

The outcomes of the conference were not welcomed by Damascus, as officials sought to set up "red lines" before traveling from the Syrian capital to the Russian resort, in exchange for Iran's silence and a partial publication of the final statement.

A Western official said that Tehran "surprised the audience by accepting the statement in Sochi," before referring to several Iranian media publishing Damascus' interpretation of the statement.

Iran's Assistant Foreign Minister for Special Political Affairs Hussein Gabri Ansari met Syrian opposition figures in Sochi amid reports of Tehran's preparations for holding a similar Sochi conference in Tehran.

On the other hand, Turkey expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the conference through a phone call between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A Turkish official indicated: "The most important outcome of the conference is the call for the establishment of a constitutional committee and the selection of a group of 150 candidates for this committee. The Turkish delegation, which was given the proxy to represent the opposition that did not attend the conference, provided a list of 50 candidates in consultation with the opposition."

De Mistura is due to form a constitutional committee that considers a "proportional representation of the opposition," and Ankara will closely monitor the process of establishing the constitutional committee as a guarantor for the opposition.

In this context, Western countries that participated as "observers" are waiting for the next stage and observing Russia's fulfillment of the conference's outcomes. They also want to see Moscow's influence on Damascus and Tehran, which want to buy the time until after Putin's election on March 18, so that Moscow will officially submit the list of 150 candidates to the UN envoy who will select 45 to 50 members of the committee from the list of "guarantors", experts and politicians.

Western countries began discussing means to conform the Group of Five plan for Syria drafted by Washington and its allies, with the Sochi document sponsored by Moscow and the Turkish and Iranian "guarantors".

The new structured paper should be a political reference for the Constitutional Commission.

Editor Picks