Syria government, opposition launch ‘historic’ constitutional review

Geir O. Pedersen, center, Special Envoy for Syria shakes hands with members of the Government, after the first meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland, Wednesday, October 30, 2019. (AP)
Updated 31 October 2019

Syria government, opposition launch ‘historic’ constitutional review

  • The UN-brokered constitutional review committee includes 150 delegates

GENEVA: Syrian government and opposition negotiators sat face-to-face on Wednesday to launch a committee tasked with amending the country’s constitution, a meeting hailed by the UN as marking “a new chapter” for the war-torn nation.

The UN-brokered constitutional review committee includes 150 delegates — divided equally among President Bashar Assad’s government, the opposition and civil society.

Hopes remain dim that the group will reach a breakthrough toward a political resolution to Syria’s eight-year conflict, which has killed more than 370,000 people.

But UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen said the meeting amounted to “a historic moment” and “a new chapter for Syria.”

“I know that it is not easy for all of you to be here together,” Pedersen said, conceding that “the road ahead will not be easy.”

Experts have argued that Assad — whose forces have made major gains against the opposition — has little to lose at the talks and will walk away before making any significant compromises.

His lead negotiator Ahmad Kuzbari praised the country’s existing charter as “a modern constitution.”

“But this does not prevent us from meeting to consider possible amendments, or changes to the current constitution, and putting a new constitution in place, one that ... effects positive change,” he added.

In opening remarks that also included tough rhetoric against those battling Assad, Kuzbari insisted that Syrian forces would continue fighting regardless of ongoing diplomacy.

“We have been fighting terrorism before the meeting, and we will wage this battle during the meeting and afterward, until we liberate every inch of our nation’s precious land,” he said.

The head of the opposition delegation, Hadi Albahra, described the meeting as “a first step on a long path to recovery.”

“We all know that 150 people meeting today in this room have diverging opinions,” he said.

“But after eight painful years of suffering in Syria we came here to look for similarities.”

Following Wednesday’s ceremony, meetings between the 150 will take place before a smaller group of 45 delegates will begin work drafting the constitution.

There is no deadline for the process and Pedersen said the aim would be to reach consensus on all issues.

Where that is not possible, changes would only be made with a 75-percent majority vote in the committee to avoid having any one side dictate the results.

Constitutional review is a central part of the UN’s peace plan for Syria, which was defined by Security Council resolution 2254, adopted in December 2015.

The resolution also calls for UN-supervised elections.


Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

Updated 23 January 2020

Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

  • Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region
  • Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region

DUBAI: The US special representative for Iran said the successor to Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike, would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path of killing Americans, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region. US President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 3 drone strike in Iraq after a build up of tension over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran responded to the killing of Soleimani, who was charged with expanding Tehran’s influence across the Middle East, by launching missile strikes on US targets in Iraq, although no US soldiers were killed.

After Soleimani’s death, Tehran swiftly appointed Esmail Ghaani as the new head of the Quds Force, an elite unit in the Revolutionary Guards that handles actions abroad. The new commander pledged to pursue Soleimani’s course.

“If (Esmail) Ghaani follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate,” Brian Hook told the Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said in the interview in Davos that US President Donald Trump had long made it clear “that any attack on Americans or American interests would be met with a decisive response.”

“This isn’t a new threat. The president has always said that he will always respond decisively to protect American interests,” Hook said. “I think the Iranian regime understands now that they cannot attack America and get away with it.”

After his appointment, Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region, which has long been Iran’s stated policy.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have steadily increased since Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and imposed tough news sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy.

This month’s military flare-up began in December when rockets fired at US bases in Iraq killed a US contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters. After the militia surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the drone strike on Soleimani.