The United Nations special envoy for Syria will meet the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran and Russia in Geneva on Tuesday, a day before talks tasked with mapping out the war-torn country’s post-conflict political arrangements are scheduled to begin.
Announcing the plan for discussions with Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu, Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, UN envoy Geir Pedersen on Monday said the fighting in northeast Syria and Idlib province was “just another proof of the importance to get a serious political process under way”.
Russia and Iran are major backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports opposition groups in Idlib, the rebels’ last major bastion. The northwestern province and its surroundings have been the target of a months-long, Russia-backed government offensive, while earlier in October, Turkey launched a cross-border military offensive into northeast Syria in a bid to clear the region of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Ankara’s push, which came after US President Donald Trump‘s pulled his country’s troops out of the area, gave way to an agreement with Moscow to establish a buffer zone along Syria’s border with Turkey cleared of the Kurdish forces.
Despite Tuesday’s talks, the three international powers will not participate directly in the meeting of Syria’s Constitutional Committee the following day, according to Pedersen.
“Syrians, not outsiders, will draft the future constitution,” he said.
— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) October 28, 2019
‘Watching the endgame’
The committee’s talks will begin with a plenary session involving 50 delegates each from three blocs – al-Assad’s administration, the Turkish-backed political opposition movement and civil society representatives.
A smaller drafting committee of 15 representatives from each group will later take over the process.
“ It’s impossible to say how long it will take for them to conclude its work, but as long as it is done with serious intentions and we see progress … I am optimistic that we will, within the not too distant future, see tangible progress in the discussions,” Pedersen, who took up the UN job in January, said.
Convening the committee is seen as key to paving the way for political reforms and new elections in a country devastated by a long-running war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions from their homes.
“No one believes that the Constitutional Committee in itself will solve the conflict. But if it is understood as part of a broader political process, it could be a door-opener and a very important, of course, symbolic beginning of a political process,” Pedersen said last week.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Geneva, said on Monday the talks would be watched closely by observers, some of whom “believe we are now watching the endgame in Syria”.
“Certainly, the UN are being upbeat about things … [However,] this is being shaped not by diplomacy but by military action that has taken place over many years,” Bays said.
“The Russians, the Iranians, the Syrian regime and more recently the Turks have been shaping the situation on the ground and very much driving the politics as well,” he added.
Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 with widespread repression of mass anti-government demonstrations.
Since then, with more than six million people uprooted within Syria and more than five million refugees now residing outside of the country.
Commenting on the UN-brokered efforts to bring an end to the war, Al Jazeera’s Bays said it would be “difficult” to form a new political settlement which pleases both al-Assad and his opponents.
“If they manage to come up with some kind of constitution that pleases the opposition and the government, which is going to be very hard indeed … then the next stage is to put that to the Syrian people to see what they think of the new constitution and then have UN-backed elections,” Bays said.
“When we talk about UN-backed elections in Syria, that would be free and fair elections … but that hasn’t taken place in Syria in any time in nearly 50 years that the al-Assad family have been in power,” he added, referring to the 19-year-rule of Assad and his predecessor, his father Hafez, who assumed office in 1971.