Syria constitutional talks halt on day one


Damascus government delegates to a Syrian Constitutional Committee left the second UN-sponsored round before it began on Monday, in what opposition members said was a stalling tactic and it was unclear whether talks would take place on Tuesday.

The talks are meant to be a step forward in what the UN says will be a long road to political rapprochement, followed by elections.

Experts question whether President Bashar al-Assad will be willing to cede much in negotiations after his Russian- and Iranian-backed forces recaptured large areas of the country in offensives against rebels and militants since 2015.

Syrian television reported the government delegation left the UN in Geneva because they were not answered on their proposal to specify a work schedule.

UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen met the co-chairs from the government and opposition sides and continued consultations with a view to the panel’s resumption, a UN spokeswoman said.

“The situation is clearly blocked,” a Western diplomat said.

The opening round of the first Syrian peace talks in more than a year went “better than most people would have expected”, Pedersen told reporters on November 8 after an opening 10-day round.

Forty-five delegates forming the committee’s drafting group arrived at UN European headquarters on Monday.

The group is made up of 15 members each from government, opposition and civil society but they did not meet.

“The Constitutional Committee of today was not held. The reason is there is no agreement on the programme or the schedule to be discussed for the meeting,” Yahya al-Aridi, a Syrian opposition spokesman, told reporters.

“The joint head of the Constitutional Committee from the regime side presented an item considered by him to be a schedule in that it included fighting terrorism, it included lifting sanctions and condemnation of what he called the Turkish invasion,” Aridi said, describing government demands as “political”.

Opposition delegate Bassma Kodmani said her side proposed an agenda last week for a structured discussion but had no reply.

“Now the government delegate comes with an agenda saying they want to discuss ‘basic patriotic principles’ as a set of pre-conditions to the constitutional discussion,” Kodmani told Reuters.

The opposition is willing to discuss principles as part of the constitutional work but not outside it, she said.

“The approach government suggests is designed to buy time,” Kodmani said.