Geneva, Switzerland – A tripartite meeting between Russia, Turkey and Iran to discuss the formation of an all-inclusive committee tasked with drafting a new Syrian constitution had ended without a major breakthrough, and a plan to reconvene in a few weeks time.
The officials of the three nations acting as guarantors of a ceasefire in the war-torn country met on Tuesday in the Swiss city of Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations.
In a brief statement issued after the meeting, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said “some common ground was beginning to emerge” around the formation of the committee.
“Constructive exchanges and substantive discussions took place on issues relevant to the establishment and functioning of a constitutional committee.”
For its part, the Syrian opposition said it needs to receive guarantees about the scope and form of the constitutional body before endorsing its mandate.
“There are many aspects that are not yet clear about the prospected constitutional committee,” Yahya al-Aridi, spokesperson for the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) told Al Jazeera from the Turkish city of Istanbul.
“We are asking many questions about the formation, functions, terms of reference of this committee. Who will be accredited to participate? Is it going to be part of the transitional process? That is why there is a delay in the presentation of the list of names that should be part of it on behalf of the opposition.”
In the past few days, de Mistura said the Syrian government had already presented a list of 50 names to be part of the committee that would be tasked with drafting Syria’s new constitution.
But al-Aridi said there is an attempt on behalf of groups who are not recognised by the Syrian opposition to become part of the body.
“There are small groups that are not considered by the people as opposition who are rushing to present their credentials,” said al-Aridi, without giving any more information.
“The only opposition group that can participate seriously in a constitutional committee is the SNC as per the Security Council Resolution 2254.”
The Syrian opposition is afraid that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may hijack the work of the constitutional committee with the end result that, like for the 2012 Constitution, it would leave too much power in the hands of the government. A sticking point in the forthcoming constitutional debate will be the authority of the Syrian president.
Al-Aridi said the opposition, which was not part of today’s tripartite meeting in Geneva, was waiting to know which bylaws would regulate the work of the committee and its legitimacy.
“Who is to legitimise the constitution they will come up with?” al-Aridi said.
Aridi added that the creation of the committee should not belittle the other issues at stake in the Syrian political process under Security Council Resolution 2254.
“If the whole Syrian issue is condensed into the creation of the committee, this is ridiculous. It has to be part of the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 and not divert the attention from the discussion of the other issues.”
‘Baskets of reform’
The meeting in Geneva followed up on the agreement signed at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in the Russian city of Sochi in January, whose final statement called for the creation of a constitutional commission formed by government, opposition and Syrian civil society.
The creation of the constitutional committee would the first step for a political solution of the conflict as mandated by the Security Council Resolution 2254.
De Mistura had earlier declared that “besides government and opposition, it will be important that independents, civil society, experts, and women – at least 30 percent of women – all find their place into this constitutional committee.”
The UN-led peace process based in Geneva has laid out the so-called four “baskets of reform” for a political settlement of the crisis.
They include the drafting of a new constitution, parliamentary elections, the creation of a non-sectarian transitional government and the fight against terrorism. But the talks have made little progress so far as government and opposition have failed to find an agreement over the fate of al-Assad.
Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, more than 465,000 Syrians have been killed and over 12 million – half the country’s population – have been displaced.