Common ground emerging on Syria constitution, more talks planned: UN

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland June 14, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 June 2018
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Common ground emerging on Syria constitution, more talks planned: UN

  • De Mistura has a mandate from the UN Security Council to forge a political agreement between Syria’s warring sides
  • The discussions in Geneva were the first visible diplomacy in months between countries involved in the Syrian war

GENEVA: Senior officials from Iran, Russia and Turkey held “substantive” talks on Tuesday on how Syria’s constitutional committee will be set up and will function, and more such talks are planned within weeks, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said.
The discussions in Geneva were the first visible diplomacy in months between countries involved in the Syrian war, and the effort to form a constitutional committee follows two years of futile rounds of talks that never led to direct meetings between the warring sides.
“During the meeting, constructive exchanges and substantive discussions took place on issues relevant to the establishment and functioning of a constitutional committee, and some common ground is beginning to emerge,” de Mistura said in a statement.
De Mistura has a mandate from the UN Security Council to forge a political agreement between Syria’s warring sides, including a new constitution and new elections.
A congress of Syrian activists held in the Russian resort of Sochi in January gave him the task of setting up a committee to draft a new constitution. He promised at the time to consult widely on the membership, which would be unlikely to exceed 50.
The government of President Bashar Assad has sent the UN a list of nominees and Syria’s opposition is expected to follow suit soon.
The meeting brought together the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Undersecretary Sedat Onal, Russia’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and the Iranian foreign minister’s Special Assistant in Political Affairs Hossein Jaber Ansari.
De Mistura plans to meet senior officials from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, France, Britain and Germany next week, and expects the Iranian, Russian and Turkish officials to return for more talks in the next few weeks “to widen the common ground,” the statement said.


Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

Militants in Syria’s Idlib failed to meet a deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country’s last rebel bastion. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

  • Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib: Russia
  • Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization

ANKARA: Turkey has failed to persuade the rebel alliance Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) to withdraw from a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib province that was agreed by Ankara and Moscow in September, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
“Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib… Militants continued shelling western Aleppo,” said ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
On Thursday, Turkish and Russian officials met in Ankara ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Istanbul on Nov. 19.
Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, said although there are serious problems with implementation of the Idlib agreement, Russian officials stressed that the process requires time and effort.
“Russia doesn’t want to push Turkey because there’s a much more important thing: Constitutional dialogue between the Syrian opposition and government, where Turkish-Russian dialogue plays a decisive role,” he told Arab News. 
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan publicly undertook obligations to clear the (Idlib) zone from terrorists,” Akhmetov said. 
“Ankara is also having a hard time with the US regarding the Syrian Kurds. I think Russia will find ways to exploit this situation.”
Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization.
Under the Turkish-Russian deal, rebel groups, including HTS, were to withdraw from the demilitarized zone by mid-October.
Ankara has repeatedly indicated its readiness to use force against radical groups if they refuse to withdraw.
Turkey has reinforced its military presence in Idlib with armored vehicles and equipment. It has 12 military posts in the province.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant and Middle East expert at Sakarya University in Turkey, said the most obvious setback of the Idlib deal is that moderate rebel groups in the province now back HTS if there is a clash between it and Syrian regime forces.
“Their focus is now on repelling regime forces even if it means violating the deal,” he told Arab News. 
“Turkey in this sense seems to have failed to separate moderate groups completely from extremists.”
An intensification of fighting between the regime and extremists may cause the deal to collapse completely, Ayasli said.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an increased rate of violations of the Idlib demilitarized zone.