UNITED NATIONS —
The U.N. Special Envoy on Syria says participants at peace talks in Sochi, Russia, have agreed to establish a committee that will draft the country's new constitution.
Staffan de Mistura told reporters in New York via telephone late Tuesday from the Black Sea resort that the guarantors of the meeting — Russia, Iran and Turkey — had each given him a list of 50 proposed candidates to be on the committee. He said it would include representatives from the Syrian government, opposition and independents.
"I plan to consult widely — including other Syrians, including those who did not attend [Sochi]," de Mistura said. "And myself prepare a list of 45 to 50 people based on criteria that will be soon announced by me, in Geneva, based on very wide consultations."
De Mistura said he was "determined" to make the constitutional committee a reality. The veteran diplomat would not give a timeline for when he would announce his criteria or convene the committee to begin drafting the constitution.
"The job ahead is going to be complicated," he admitted. "But frankly, we believe that we can build on it."
Tuesday's breakthrough at the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue was made despite an occasionally chaotic meeting with some 1,600 Syrian participants.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's opening speech at the two-day Syrian Congress of National Dialogue was interrupted by heckling from Syrian delegates and cries of "Long live Russia!" The speech was delayed by two hours due to on-going negotiations.
Reading a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov said conditions were ripe for Syria to turn "a tragic page" in its history. Syrian delegates accused Russia of killing innocent civilians in their country. Russian state television footage of the event showed security guards ordering a man in the audience to sit down.
Critics of the Sochi Congress, which is backed by Turkey and Iran, accused Russia of trying to hijack the Syrian peace process from the United Nations and offering a solution that favors the government of Bashar al-Assad. After much internal debate, the United Nations secretary-general did not decide until Saturday to send his envoy, de Mistura, to the meeting.
The Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) — the opposition's main negotiating bloc — boycotted the talks. Another opposition delegation, that included members of the armed opposition who had flown in from Turkey, refused to leave the airport upon arrival, saying it was boycotting the talks because of broken promises to remove the Syrian government emblem from the premises.
Artyom Kozhin, senior diplomat at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Lavrov had spoken by phone with his Turkish counterpart prior to the meeting and promised that Syrian flags and emblems would be removed from the airport and the conference venue. Kozhin acknowledged that there had been complications.
The United States, France and Britain declined to attend the conference, deferring to a U.N.-led effort to end the seven-year-old civil war.
VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.