Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, has put forth a draft agreement designed to promote progress at the next round of talks on Syria’s constitution in Geneva. Copies of the proposed plan were sent to the two co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC), Ahmad Kuzbari, who represents the Syrian government, and Hadi Albahra from the opposition.
The envoy’s initiative comes at a time when Russia, a key ally of the Syrian regime, is pressing for holding the sixth round of SCC talks right after Ramadan and presidential elections in the war-torn country are over.
For Pedersen, Moscow’s current interest in convening the sixth round of SCC talks can help induce a breakthrough in efforts for finding a new settlement and drafting a new constitution for the Levantine country.
Today, three active political tracks are currently steering the Syria peace process.
In one of them, Damascus is pushing for holding presidential elections according to the constitutional referendum passed in 2012.
While Moscow supports Syrians voting according to the 2012 constitution, it also recognizes the importance of promoting SCC efforts for two main reasons: giving legitimacy to elections in May and ensuring the political peace process is moving forward, albeit at a slow pace.
Last week, the Kremlin's Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to discuss Russia’s views on current developments in the political process.
Negotiations and shuttle diplomacy led by Pedersen between the regime and opposition representatives in the SCC are also playing a role in shaping future political steps taken in Syria.
During the meetings, Kuzbari rejected drafting a new constitution before first agreeing on certain national doctrines, like opposing the US and Turkish occupation, fighting terrorism, and adhering to the unity and sovereignty of Syria.
Nevertheless, the regime negotiator soon caved under Russian pressure and agreed to weigh up “constitutional principles.”
Despite the Assad government’s attempts to delay the peace process, Russia– which has provided considerable military and financial support to the Syrian government – is arguably keen to achieve a political settlement.
Moreover, Moscow recognizes that the SCC remains the most likely avenue to reach a political settlement for Syria.
Hoping to capitalize on Russia’s current interest, Pedersen is pushing for a written agreement between regime and opposition delegations at the SCC. On April 15, the UN envoy sent a draft agreement, which Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of in both English and Arabic, to each of Kuzbari and AlBahra.
Titled the “Proposed methodology for Sixth Session of the Constitutional Committee Small Body,” the document stressed that SCC was established and given power by an agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition’s High Negotiations Commission (HNC).
It also highlighted that the SCC “operates in accordance with the Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure, as was also confirmed in the Code of Conduct.”
In the proposal, Pedersen presented a five-point plan for the next round of talks.
He requested that written proposals for basic principles to be included in the draft constitution be submitted by both the government and opposition delegations before heading to Geneva for negotiations.
According to Pedersen’s plan, at least one principle would be discussed at each meeting held by the SCC’s Small Body throughout days 1-4 of the sixth round of talks.
It is worth noting that the SCC’s Small Body includes 45 delegates representing the government, opposition, and civil society.
“Each Small Body meeting during days 1-4 of the session shall address and exhaust discussion of at least one of the basic constitutional principles,” said the proposal, adding that on day 5 representatives may seek to deepen any points of provisional agreement identified in the previous four days.
Perhaps one of the most controversial items on the envoy’s suggested scheme is arranging for periodic tripartite meetings between SCC co-chairs Kuzbari and AlBahra and Pedersen with the aim of “strengthening consensus and ensuring the good functioning of the committee.”
Russia, for its part, vowed to back meetings between Kuzbari and AlBahra with its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, saying that early presidential elections could be held in the case of reaching an agreement on a new draft constitution.
The offered vote, however, would only take place after already holding the presidential elections in which Assad is expected to win another seven years in office.
For the time being, observers have shifted their focus to how Kuzbari and AlBahra will respond to Pedersen’s plan in light of Moscow’s keenness for holding the sixth round of talks soon.