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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

UN hopes for meeting on Syria constitution by late December

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy, aims to hold the committee’s first meeting before the end of the year

Jonathan Cohen, left, addresses the UN Security Council after a report from Staffan De Mistura. AP
Jonathan Cohen, left, addresses the UN Security Council after a report from Staffan De Mistura. AP

The United Nations is still aiming to send invitations to 150 Syrians by mid-December to participate in a committee that would draft a new constitution for Syria, which is key to holding elections and ending the country’s civil war, a UN envoy said on Monday.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, told the Security Council that the UN also aims to hold the committee’s first meeting before December 31.

But Mr de Mistura said the Syrian government is objecting to 50 members of the committee representing civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women that he was authorised to put together at a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in Sochi on January 30.

Under the Sochi agreement, the committee is to comprise 150 members. There is already agreement on the 50-member delegation from the government and the 50-member delegation from the opposition.

But Mr De Mistura warned that if there is no agreement on the remaining members, the UN may have to conclude that it’s not possible to form a “credible and inclusive” constitutional committee at this stage.

He said the UN welcomes “constructive and moderate suggestions” to change the list of the disputed 50 members. But Mr de Mistura said they must “maintain the same spirit of credibility, balance and international legitimacy”, and he stressed that the list can’t be filled with political leaders who are already represented.

The UN envoy said that at his last briefing to the Security Council in December “it will be my duty to explain where we are on the constitutional committee, and leave a clean and clear ground to my successor regarding it”.

Mr De Mistura was supposed to step down at the end of December but UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday that he will be staying on “for a bit longer” to make sure there is no gap “at an extremely critical time in the Syria talks”. He will be succeeded by veteran Norwegian ambassador Geir Pederson.

“The weeks to come will be of crucial importance” in attempts to form a constitution-drafting committee, Mr De Mistura said.

US deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen urged the constitutional committee to be convened in December, "if not sooner”.

He said Mr de Mistura has been “more than patient and flexible” in accepting input on the list of committee members.

“Any further deliberation must be seen for what it is - an artificial delay, a transparent attempt to distract and delay progress towards a political solution in Syria,” Mr Cohen said.

He said the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran can’t be allowed to veto Mr de Mistura’s decision on the committee’s membership.

“The burden is on Russia to show that it wants its own diplomatic initiative to succeed,” Mr Cohen said. “Russia must bring the Syrian regime to the table. If it truly wants a political solution, Russia must end the obstruction of this process.”