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UN Mediator Hedging Bets on Outcome of Syrian Constitutional Talks


FILE - A large sign bearing the portrait of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, with text in Arabic below reading “we have chosen you for we have loved you,” is displayed along Abo Romaneh street in the capital Damascus on May 10, 2021, ahead of presidential elections.

GENEVA — Syria’s government, opposition and civic society representatives are set to begin a seventh round of U.N.-mediated talks this week to draft a new constitution for the battle-scarred country.

The last round of talks in October ended in acrimony with government and opposition delegates blaming each other for the failure to reach an agreement. They said a mechanism was needed to improve the workings of the last day of the session. They indicated they would not return to the negotiating table until that was done.

U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen says, with his help, the parties have agreed on a deal and have decided to meet again. He says he has had good businesslike meetings with the committee co-chairs who have agreed upon a work agenda for the coming week.

However, after six previous rounds of talks that ended in failure, he says he is wary of predicting how the talks will go.

“If the three delegations do what they have said what they will do, I hope that we can see some steady progress,” Pedersen said. “But I learned that through the six previous round of talks, I should not prejudge the outcome of the discussion.”

FILE - U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks to journalists following a U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria at U.N. headquarters, April 30, 2019.
FILE - U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks to journalists following a U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria at U.N. headquarters, April 30, 2019.

In 2012, the U.N. created a so-called road map for peace in Syria. Part of this plan calls for the drafting of a new constitution, followed by U.N.-supervised elections. However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad preempted this last provision. He held presidential elections last May, which he allegedly won by a landslide. Western countries have called the election a sham.

Pedersen says the negotiations will seek to draft for popular approval — a constitutional reform — either through an amendment of the current constitution or by drafting a new constitution.

“I have consistently said that the committee should work in a way that builds trust and confidence. And during this session, I hope to see the constitution committee work with a sense of seriousness and purpose and determination to make progress that the situation demands,” Pedersen said.

The United Nations reports Syria’s 11-year war has killed more than 350,000 people, displaced nearly 12 million both inside the country and as refugees in neighboring countries, and plunged more than 90% of the population into poverty.

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