New UN Syria envoy seeks Syria constitution talks, no firm timeframe

Geir Pedersen is the fourth Syria mediator after Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi and Staffan de Mistura. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019
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New UN Syria envoy seeks Syria constitution talks, no firm timeframe

  • Formation of a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria
  • Pedersen said he could not be more specific about the timeframe for a meeting of the committee

GENEVA: The new UN envoy tasked with forging peace in Syria hopes to convene a constitutional committee in Geneva “as soon as possible,” he said on Friday, without giving a firm timeframe for the latest attempt to end the country’s devastating war.
Formation of a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end an almost eight-year-old war, which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of Syria’s pre-war 22 million population.
Geir Pedersen, the fourth Syria mediator after Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi and Staffan de Mistura, said he also had ideas about how to build trust and confidence between the two sides, who have previously attended nine rounds of largely fruitless talks as the war rumbled on.
“I think we have identified the challenges and we have agreed on how we should move forward and that I see as a very, very positive sign,” Pedersen told reporters.
“My hope (is) that they will be able as soon as possible to have the constitution committee to meet in Geneva.”
Syria’s opposition last year agreed to join a process of rewriting the constitution under UN auspices following a peacemaking conference in the Russian city of Sochi.
But President Bashar Assad, who is emerging triumphant in the conflict and has sworn to retake every inch of Syria still outside his control, has objected to the world body naming members of the committee.
Pedersen said he could not be more specific about the timeframe for a meeting of the committee, but he said his discussions with relevant parties were good.
Asked if he would have failed if he had not presided over an end to the war by the end of his tenure, Pedersen said the aim was to negotiate an agreement between the two parties.
“To be able to get to a situation where you can say that we have been able to put eight years of conflict behind us and that we as Syrians agree that we will begin the process of creating a future for coming Syrians, that... would be the definition that we have been successful.”
Pedersen met the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in Riyadh last month, shortly after a visit to Damascus, where Assad’s forces have made large territorial gains on the battlefield, largely thanks to Russian and Iranian support.
Russia, Iran and Turkey, supporters of the main sides left in Syria’s complex war, have so far failed to agree on the make-up of the constitutional committee.
But chief opposition negotiator Nasr Haririr said on Jan. 19 after talks with Pedersen that Syria had a good opportunity to reach a political solution to its war because cease-fires have brought calm to many areas of the country.
Pedersen added that he saw the constitutional committee as “a potential door opener” for the political process.
In parallel with this, work was also needed on other issues and he hoped to discuss this in more detail with the Syrian parties, including the government and SNC, he said.
As a sign of increasing confidence, Pedersen said he hoped to see more prisoner exchanges, and clarity on missing persons, following a swap between the government and rebel forces a few days ago, where each side handed over 20 prisoners.


Saudi Arabia joins Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

Updated 20 min 57 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia joins Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

  • Israel seized part of the Golan during the 1967 Six-Day War, subsequently annexing it in 1981
  • US President Trump officially recognized Israel's sovereignty of the Golan Heights on March 25, 2019

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia joined Arab states on Monday in condemning a decision by the United States to recognize the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Breaking decades of international consensus, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation at the White House on Monday recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the border area that Israel seized from Syria in 1967. 

Saudi Arabia firmly rejected the decision and affirmed its position that Golan Heights was occupied Syrian Arab land in accordance with the relevant international resolutions, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The declaration, made by the US, is a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the report said.

The US decision was a violation of Security Council resolutions 242 of 1967 and 497 of 1981, and would have devastating implications on the peace process in the Middle East, as well as security and stability in the region, Saudi Arabia’s official statement said.

Saudi Arabia called on all parties to respect the decisions of international legitimacy and the charter of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said that the decision “does not change the area’s status” as illegally occupied territory,

Syria said the decision was a blatant attack on its sovereignty. 

“Trump does not have the right or the legal authority to legitimize the occupation,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Opposition chief Nasr Al-Hariri said Trump’s decision would “lead to more violence and instability, and it will have negative effects on efforts to engineer peace in the region.”

Lebanon said the move “violates all the rules of international law” and “undermines any effort to reach a just peace.”

“The Golan Heights are Syrian Arab land, no decision can change this, and no country can revisit history by transferring ownership of land from one country to another,” the Foreign Ministry said.