GENEVA - As military attacks on Idlib intensify, the United Nations is trying to put the Syrian conflict back on the political negotiating table. Senior officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran will gather in Geneva Monday for two days of discussions on drafting a new constitution for war-torn Syria.
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura views these talks as the curtain-raiser on a renewed political process for Syria. The aim is to help this conflict-ridden country transition to a more democratic society.
De Mistura says the focus of the two-day meeting will be to establish a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned constitutional committee. The task of the committee will be to rewrite the Syrian constitution, paving the way for new elections.
"But, we have reached a point, due to many circumstances in realpolitik, that the constitutional committee can be and should be now the entry point for what we call a credible political process, as long as the constitutional committee is credible as well," he said.
And that is a major sticking point. Earlier this year, the Syrian opposition presented a list of 50 names it wants on the committee. This is equal to the number proposed by the Syrian regime, which insists it gets 60 percent of the seats.
De Mistura says he would like to have the constitutional committee in place before world leaders gather for the General Assembly in New York later this month. The U.N. envoy is a realist and recognizes the current tensions and escalating offensive in Idlib by the Syrian government and its Russian ally could upend his political-led process. He says he hopes this does not happen.
"We still believe that the political process should not be hostage of anything, otherwise there will always be a reason, or an excuse used by anyone to postpone everything else," he said.
Next week's meeting will be taking place in the shadow of the escalating war in Idlib, the last rebel-held enclave in Syria. The United Nations warns an all-out onslaught against Idlib will put at risk the lives of nearly three million civilians, including 1 million children.
It says the determination of the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies to defeat an estimated 10,000 terrorists in Idlib must be weighed against the potential massacre of many of the millions of vulnerable people who live there.