Russia, Iran and Turkey, supporters of the main sides in Syria’s complex civil war, on Tuesday failed to agree on the makeup of a United Nations-sponsored Syrian constitutional committee but called for it to convene early next year to kick off a viable peace process.
In a joint statement read out by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after the trio met the UN Syria peace envoy, Staffan de Mistura, in Geneva, they said the new initiative should be guided “by a sense of compromise and constructive engagement”.
The foreign ministers of the three nations had hoped to seal their joint proposal on a committee – which could usher in elections – and win UN blessing for it.
But the statement by the three made no mention of the composition of the panel, pointing to lingering disagreement over lists of candidates submitted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his rebel adversaries.
The Syrian government, which is backed by Moscow and Tehran, has not yet agreed to the committee, saying it will only support a process that alters Syria‘s existing constitution.
De Mistura, addressing a separate news conference, made clear the three powers had not nailed down a workable political forum yet, after years of abortive attempts at ending the bloody seven-year war.
“I believe there is an extra mile to go in the marathon effort to ensure the necessary package for a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee, and for including a balanced chairing arrangement and drafting body and voting threshold – to be established under UN auspices in Geneva,” he said.
De Mistura, who will be replaced as UN envoy on January 7, praised the “significant joint input” from the three powers. The meeting marked a final moment in his four-year tenure, which did not produce a breakthrough for peace.
Assad’s government and the opposition fighting to topple him have each submitted a roster of 50 names. But Russia, Iran and Turkey have haggled over the final 50 members from civil society and “independent” backgrounds.
Turkey supports rebels who control part of northwest Syria. A year ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Assad as a “terrorist” and said it was impossible for Syrian peacemaking efforts to continue with him.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said on Sunday that Turkey and other nations would consider working with Assad if he won a democratic election.
Assad, whose forces have reclaimed most of Syria with Russian and Iranian support apart from Idlib, a northwestern province, has clung to power throughout the conflict and is widely seen as being loath to yield power after it ends.
The Syrian government had previously brushed off UN-led efforts to set up a constitutional committee.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the war that began in March 2011 with millions forced to flee the fighting to other countries.