GENEVA: Syrian constitutional talks at the United Nations were put on hold just hours after they began on Monday after three delegates tested positive for COVID-19, the UN said.
The office of UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said it received confirmation that “three members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body tested positive for COVID-19” and the session in Geneva “is currently on hold.”
Syrian government, opposition and civil society delegations were resuming meetings in Geneva to discuss a possible new constitution — a step seen by the UN mediator as a prospective “door-opener” to a final resolution of the country’s devastating nine-year civil war
The UN’s Syria envoy, Geir Pedersen, is hosting the three, 15-member teams from Syria, while major regional and world powers — Iran, Russia, Turkey and the United States — are expected to be present on the sidelines during the week-long gathering at the UN offices in Geneva.
With a fragile cease-fire largely holding in the rebel-held region of Idlib, Pedersen said last week he is hoping to build “trust and confidence” in a UN-led process that has produced few concrete results so far.
The Syrian war broke out in 2011, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the exile of millions from their homes. The opposition wants a new constitution drafted, while the government says the current charter should be amended.
The meeting will be the first of its kind in nine months, before the COVID-19 outbreak forced the postponement of one planned in March. Participants were tested for the coronavirus before and after arrival in Geneva.
US envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, who is in Geneva, noted this month a “shift at least in tone” from Syrian President Bashar Assad by acknowledging the UN-backed process in ways that he had not previously. Jeffrey said the United States will keep watch on whether the government had changed “at least tactically” its approach in the talks.
A larger group of 150 delegates is also part of the process, but is not meeting this week.