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How Did Damascus Handle ‘Russian Advice’ on Constitutional Talks?

How Did Damascus Handle ‘Russian Advice’ on Constitutional Talks?

Sunday, 9 May, 2021 - 07:30
A man walks near a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on May 3 (AFP)

Despite support from Russia and the international community, chances for holding another round of Syrian constitutional talks in Geneva before presidential elections slotted for May 26 in the war-torn Levantine country have gotten even slimmer.

In his meeting with President Bashar al-Assad last week, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev succeeded in prying out approval for the regime delegation in Geneva to engage in a proposal tabled by the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen.

Although Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC) Co-Chair Ahmad Kuzbari, who represents the Assad government, wrote back on Pedersen’s draft agreement for promoting progress at the next round of talks, it didn’t provide grounds enough to hold the sixth round of negotiations before elections.

On April 15, Pedersen sent copies of his proposed plan to both Kuzbari and Hadi Albahra, the SCC co-chair from the opposition.

According to the draft agreement, which Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of in both English and Arabic, a five-point plan will be followed to ensure progress in upcoming discussions.

It included testing the SCC’s Small Body, made up of 45 delegates representing the government, opposition, and civil society.

More importantly, Pedersen’s proposal is considered the first UN document that forces a mechanism for drafting the Syrian constitution.

For instance, the envoy’s scheme includes 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, a key regime ally, has backed holding the meetings to strengthen consensus and ensure the proper functioning of the SCC and define constitutional principles in question.

While Moscow is unhappy with the sixth round of talks in Geneva being delayed, it continues to stand firmly on separating the SCC’s work from holding elections.

The Kremlin was betting on a “symbolic” round of talks between 17 and 21 May persuading the rest of the world, especially Arab and European states, to normalize ties with Damascus out of a conviction that the political process is successful, and that the SSC’s work is moving forward.

Even though it recognizes the SCC as the most likely avenue to reach a political settlement for Syria, Russia is backing presidential elections without first drafting a new constitution.

Nevertheless, the regime backer says it would convince Damascus to hold early general or presidential elections according to the new constitution after it is produced.

Oppositely, Western countries are disgruntled with the SCC’s work, and other Arab countries in the region are still calling for prioritizing a political solution and the implementation of UN resolution 2554.

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