UN’s Guterres announces Syria constitutional committee formation

Announcement comes a week after UN chief said an agreement was reached concerning ‘composition of the committee’.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the creation of a constitutional committee on Syria that will include members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition representatives.

The announcement on Monday came a week after Guterres said an agreement was reached concerning “the composition of the committee”.

“I’m pleased to announce the agreement of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Negotiations Commission for a credible, balanced and inclusive Constitutional Committee that will be facilitated by the UN in Geneva,” Guterres said on the eve of the 74th UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

“I firmly believe that the launching of a Syrian-organised and Syrian-led constitutional committee can be the beginning of a political path towards a solution [to the conflict].”

‘Won the war’

But Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told Al Jazeera it was “hard to hold up much hope” for the committee’s viability.

“The Syrian government has put its foot down and said that only Syrians are going to decide the future of Syria… It has won the war so it’s unlikely to allow for outside powers and the UN to change the constitution very much,” Landis said.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said the UN was confident it can move ahead with the process after initially running into problems over the body’s composition. 

“They finalised the list of participants last week and it was agreed in a meeting in Turkey by the leaders of Turkey, Iran and Russia,” Bays said. 

“I spoke to the secretary-general shortly after that and he told me he thought the deal had been done. But to make sure that the Syrian government was on board, he sent his special envoy to Damascus.” 

Finalising the deal 

Earlier on Monday, UN special envoy Geir Pederson met Syria’s foreign minister to discuss all outstanding issues in the committee’s formation.

Syria’s official SANA news agency reported that Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem’s meeting with Pederson focused on the body’s setup and guarantees that it will be free “from any foreign intervention”.

Moallem was quoted as saying that Damascus will have a right to continue fighting “terrorism according” to international law.

Syria has been gripped by violence since 2011 when security forces cracked down on demonstrators seeking democratic reforms.

A ceasefire went into effect at the end of August, halting a major government offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib which is mostly controlled by al-Qaeda-linked Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham.

Pedersen added that he has also been in contact with Nasr al-Hariri, who heads the committee that represents the Syrian opposition.

At a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. This was a key step towards elections and a political settlement to the Syrian conflict, which has killed over 400,000 people.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies