No consensus on agenda in Syria constitution talks held in Geneva

Opposition representatives blame government delegation for failure of talks to amend the Syrian constitution.

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    UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, left, told reporters disagreement in such talks was 'typical' [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]
    UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, left, told reporters disagreement in such talks was 'typical' [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

    Geneva, Switzerland - A month after the creation of a constitutional committee formed to amend Syria's constitution, its members have failed to reach an agreement over a common agenda, a United Nations official has said.

    Opposition members on Friday blamed representatives of the government's delegation for the failure to kick-start a long-awaited process meant to revise the Syrian constitution of 2012 that would usher in a new democratic phase in the worn-torn country.

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    When the UN-brokered talks in Geneva came to a halt on Friday, delegates accused the government of rejecting the tentative agenda proposed by the opposition "at least five times".

    Sources told Al Jazeera the government delegation failed to present its own agenda proposal and tried to shift the discussion away from the constitutional reforms.

    The newly formed constitutional committee, with 150 members - divided equally between the government, opposition and civil society - was requested to agree upon a common agenda, including a list of constitutional principles to be drafted by a smaller group of 45 negotiators.

    No agreement on agenda

    "The two co-chairs from the government and the opposition didn't find agreement on the agenda, so the smaller body could not convene," the UN's special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told reporters at the UN office in Geneva on Friday. "Disagreement is typical in such cases."

    The UN envoy did not say if and when the committee would meet again, but sources close to the talks said Pedersen has no intention to convene a new round of talks unless there is agreement on the agenda.

    He was reported as saying that he "would not facilitate sterile talks".

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    An opposition delegate told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity that the opposition had done its part of the job.

    "We proposed a working plan to address the general structure of the constitution and its chapters. We suggested the discussion of the chart's preamble and its introduction to the constitution with its leading principles," said the delegate.

    "We made different formulations and they were rejected by the government five times," the delegate added.

    Another opposition delegate said the government was not willing to discuss any issues related to the constitution under the principles of the UN-mandated constitutional committee. 

    "They are bringing up other topics, but we have a mandate, which is the drafting of a new chart. All other topics are out of our scope," Bassma Kodmani, a lawyer and a member of the opposition, told Al Jazeera.

    "There doesn't seem to be the seriousness or the commitment to really work on a new constitution."

    'Government stalling talks'

    Ahmad Kuzbari, head of the government delegation, told reporters that the opposition's proposals represented the "interests of the occupying countries" in Syria.

    "We are ready to come back here to discuss what is in the interests of the Syrian people and not of foreign powers," said Kuzbari, as he evaded questions on the real reasons for the standstill.

    Frustrations ran high among the delegates on the opposition side over a missed chance to kickstart a constitutional review. 

    "The government delegation is here in Geneva because Russia told them so," said a UN diplomat. "They had no alternative but to come. Now, the only thing they are left with is to stall the talks."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News