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Worth going ‘extra mile’ for a new Syrian constitution, UN envoy urges

18 December 2018

Efforts to establish a constitutional committee for Syria are worth going the “extra mile” for, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Tuesday, after meeting the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey – guarantors of a fragile ceasefire in the wartorn country – who agreed that it should convene for the first time early next year, in Geneva.

Speaking to journalists in the Swiss city, the veteran negotiator confirmed that he had held “intensive” consultations with Sergey Lavrov (Russia), Mevlut Cavusoglu (Turkey) and Mohammad Javad Zarif (Iran).

“In close consultation with the Secretary-General, I believe that there is an extra mile to go in the marathon effort to ensure the necessary package for a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee,” Mr de Mistura said, “and for including a balanced chairing arrangement and drafting body and voting threshold – to be established under UN auspices in Geneva.”

The establishment of a 150-member constitutional committee for Syria was agreed at peace talks held in Sochi, Russia, in January, with a view to creating a new more inclusive system of governance in Syria, in the post-war era.

At a UN Security Council briefing in October, Mr de Mistura noted that the Government of Syria had proposed that the UN withdraw a list of 50 individuals that the organization had suggested should serve on the committee.

This “Middle Third List” included delegates that represented Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

At what was likely his last press conference in Geneva before stepping down as UN Special Envoy for Syria after more than four years in the post, Mr de Mistura explained that he would be going to UN headquarters in New York to consult with the Secretary-General and to brief the Security Council on developments on Thursday.

His comments come after more than seven years of conflict that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, displaced millions and destroyed Syria’s economy and infrastructure.

Noting that his successor, Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen, would start work on 7 January, Mr de Mistura stressed “the determination of the UN to continue its efforts for the Syrian people. I would like to underline the importance of the international community to unite as one in the period ahead to enable the political process as mandated by the Security Council to move forward.”

Veteran negotiator stepping down for personal reasons

Despite having to deal with numerous challenges during his time as a UN Envoy, Mr de Mistura said he was stepping down for personal, not professional, reasons.

“I am not tired, I am not frustrated, in our job we cannot afford to be frustrated, otherwise you would not be a mediator,” he said. “You can’t be a doctor and be frustrated by diseases. But I did so because a: at a certain point you need to draw a line on your personal life as well, at least for a period. And b: because I found an excellent successor who I know will be not only doing along the lines of what we have done, but do even better”.

Mr de Mistura highlighted Mr Guterres’s “appreciation” of the efforts by Iran, Russia and Turkey to work with each other “and the Syrian parties” on the constitutional committee, as well as other high-level meetings.

These included an encounter between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Danang in 2017, the UN official noted, and another between the Presidents of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey in October this year.

“These consultations were a key part of our own intensive effort at the request of the Secretary-General to fundamentally advance the possibility of establishing a Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated constitutional committee in order to draft for a popular approval a constitutional reform,” Mr de Mistura said, “as a contribution to the political settlement in Syria that gives effect to the Sochi Final Statement of 30 January 2018, within the context of the Geneva process to implement Security Council resolution 2254”.

Ahead of the UN Special Envoy’s press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov read a joint statement outlining the “positive results” of consultations by Russia, Turkey and Iran with Syrian parties over the composition of the constitutional committee.

Its work should be “governed by a sense of compromise and constructive engagement”, Mr Lavrov said, adding that the aim was for it to receive “the widest possible support” of Syrians, leading to “the launch of a viable and lasting Syrian-led, Syrian-owned and UN-facilitated political process”.

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