UN special envoy for Syria: Peace talks are fragile, so time is needed

UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen © AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
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The creation of the Syrian Constitutional Committee is perhaps the main achievement of a political settlement in Syria this year. However, almost immediately after the launch, its work faced difficulties, since the government and the opposition could not agree on the agenda of the negotiations. In an interview with TASS the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, who took part in the high-level meeting on Syria in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan, spoke about these problems and whether they can be overcome.

– Mr. Pedersen, the last round of the consultations of the Syrian Constitutional Committee seemed like a dead end as two co-chairs couldn’t agree even on agenda. Do you expect talks in Nur-Sultan will give some impulse to the talks in Geneva? Do you expect to hold another meeting of the small group of the Constitutional Committee before the end of the year?

-​​ In the context of the Geneva process, the UN was mandated by the Security Council in resolution 2254 (2015) to facilitate a political process for Syria.

In terms of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, the Co-Chairs did not agree on an agenda during the last session. I worked intensely with both Co-Chairs to overcome this issue—and I will continue to do so. The challenges we ran into during the second session are not uncommon. These are very early days, and the process is fragile.  I hope consensus on an agenda can be reached as soon as possible.  It is important that the agreed Terms of Reference for the Constitutional Committee are adhered to because this will have important consequences for the process going forward. I will announce dates for the next session as soon as there is tangible progress on setting the agenda in line with the Terms of Reference.

However, the second round of the Constitutional Committee has confirmed that the two parties remain fundamentally interested in resolving political issues related to ending the conflict, but which the Constitutional Committee alone cannot resolve.

As I have said, the Constitutional Committee can be a door opener for a broader and comprehensive  political process that must include concrete actions on the ground; it must see meaningful progress on detainees, abductees and missing persons; it must establish a nationwide ceasefire; create an environment for refugees and internally displaced persons to return in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner; achieve real reconciliation, and address Security Council-listed terrorist groups . All these issues I will continue to discuss with relevant stakeholders.

– As far as I know, some of the members of the Constitutional Committee were invited to Astana talks besides usual delegations of the Syrian government and opposition. What is the point of them present in Nur-Sultan? Are you going to talk to them to achieve the agreement on the agenda?

– I understand that the usual practice of inviting delegations of the Government of Syria and the AOGs was followed. I would defer to the organizers to give any further indication concerning who was invited, and to the delegations themselves to clarify their own composition.

As the facilitator of the Geneva process that the Security Council mandated through its resolution 2254, I am going to continue my consultations with the parties that agreed to the Terms of Reference of the Constitutional Committee – that is the Government and the opposition SNC – as required, and with other interested stakeholders.

– How do you see the situation in the northeast of Syria? Do you expect the ceasefire to hold there? Is there any way to integrate Idlib and other territories that now are under the control of Turkey back to Syria?

– We continue to view the situation with grave concern and, as the Secretary General stressed back in October, we continue to call for de-escalation, maximum restraint and that any military operations fully respect international law, including the UN Charter and international humanitarian law, especially in terms of the protection of civilians.

We continue to push for a nationwide ceasefire and for the resolution of the conflict through a political process toward a final settlement based on resolution 2254 that stresses that any solution to the conflict meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and reaffirms the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria.

– Do you expect to achieve progress on the matter of detained persons in Nur Sultan? Could we expect exchange of the detained persons in nearest future?

– This issue has been one of my top priorities since I took up this post in the beginning of the year. I have been consistently appealing for the unilateral release of detainees and abductees, particularly women and children, and for clarifying the fate of missing persons. It is a matter of great frustration for me that there has not been meaningful movement on this file. Action by all parties in this regard, and at a meaningful scale, is crucial. This would be a vital step, first and foremost on purely humanitarian grounds, but also as an important confidence-building measure. Tens of thousands remain detained, abducted and missing, their families suffering from untold pain and grief. I will continue to engage both parties directly. In parallel, my Deputy and I remain ready to actively contribute to the efforts of the Working Group that was set up to deal with this issue.

– Do you hope to get new constitution for Syria before parliamentary elections in the 2020 and presidential elections in 2021?

– The elections you refer to are following a schedule set by the current 2012 Constitution. For the moment, my priority is to arrive at a consensus on the agenda with the Co-Chairs, in line with the Rules of Procedure, and facilitate the holding of the next session of the Constitutional Committee. It is too early to speculate when the work of the Constitutional Committee will finish.

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