During the sixth round of UN sponsored peace talks in Geneva between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, presented a proposal for drafting a new constitution. At the two-day talks that started on May 16, both sides expressed surprise at receiving the UN draft saying they were “not expecting it.” De Mistura said it was important to present the draft to the two sides because it was aimed at mapping a way forward to a new draft constitution.
The UN proposal said a “consultative” team would begin work immediately on “specific options for constitutional drafting” in an attempt to “prevent a constitutional or legal vacuum at any point during the political transition process being negotiated.” Given the mindset of the opposition groups, this may be difficult to achieve. They still insist that President Bashar al-Asad has to step down, despite more than six years of bloodletting and the failure of their head-chopping heavily armed thuggish allies. The demand for the Syrian president’s ouster actually comes from the various groups’ foreign sponsors — Saudis, Qataris, Turks, and the Americans. The five previous rounds of UN-mediated negotiations in Geneva failed precisely because of this ludicrous demand.
A more hopeful process has been the talks brokered by Iran, Russia, and Turkey in the Kazakh capital, Astana. Four rounds of talks have been held so far and in the latest round on May 2–4, a memorandum of understanding on de-escalation zones in Syria was signed. This is a novel idea and has sharply reduced fighting in the country although Syrian opposition groups opposed that as well. They seem not to be in favor of ending the bloodshed although the principal victims are the Syrian people.
Under the agreement, conditions would be created for the delivery of medical assistance, the restoration of damaged infrastructure, and the return of displaced civilians to their homes. One wonders why the opposition groups are opposed to this, unless of course, they want Bashar al-Asad’s head on a platter and the presidency in their lap.
The UN’s de Mistura, however, has a different understanding of the situation. At a news conference in Geneva on May 15, he stressed that the Astana and Geneva peace talks on the settlement of the Syrian crisis worked “in tandem.” “There is no doubt that this [Astana] meeting was urgent also in view of the Astana memorandum…” referring to the agreement on the de-escalation zones. De Mistura called the results of the Astana talks “extremely potentially promising.”
According to the UN Special Envoy, the latest round of Geneva talks would be working all week on the “four baskets” of governance, a new constitution, elections, and the fight against terrorism. The de-escalation of violence in Syria “cannot be sustained unless there is a political horizon in one direction or the other,” de Mistura said.
While Syrian opposition groups continue to object to reducing violence in the country, the sponsoring countries are keen to press ahead. On May 15, for instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russian, Iranian, and Turkish representatives were in touch with the Syrian government to draw the lines of the safe zones and then deal with the monitoring procedure.