The long anticipated Syrian meetings at the UN for amending the country’s constitution are going full swing and in a smooth manner at the UN headquarters in Geneva.
UN Syria Envoy Geir Pedersen hailed the first round of discussions managed by 45 delegates from the Syrian government and opposition, calling it “a very good beginning.” Pedersen concluded from last week’s meeting in Geneva that both Syrian parties are taking the assembly in a “professional and serious” attitude.
The second round of discussions will be held on November 25th.
“Two weeks has gone much better than most people would have expected,” Pedersen said. “They have started to listen to each other very seriously,” he added, pointing out that “these are sometimes very painful discussions, and it takes courage to sit and listen to the other side presenting its views on these issues.”
It is still unclear whether the constitution will be amended or a new one will be written from scratch. No deadline is set for the process either. However, the UN envoy has expressed it is pushing ahead with mutual understanding.
Ahmed Kuzbari, the meeting co-chair representing the government delegation, informed reporters in Geneva that both scenarios are on the table, despite Damascus’ willingness to amend the 2012 constitution only.
Kuzbari stipulated that if any amendments will be done, they should meet the objectives of the Syrian state by respecting Syrian sovereignty and acknowledging the need to fight terrorism.
The debate was particularly heated over the terrorism issue during the meeting.
Hadi Albahra, the opposition representative co-chairing the meeting, stressed that there should be an amendment to the definition of terrorism as “having a huge gap” that confuses terrorists with opposition groups.
Albahra confessed that the talks were not easy and confirmed he had not shaken hands with Kuzbari.
"We all had to be reasonable and go beyond the differences and to focus on the parts that unify Syrians," reiterated Albahra.
However, the meeting still stands as a remarkable accomplishment in the Syrian crisis after years of attempts by Pedersen's predecessor, Staffan de Mistura, to manage talks between the two delegations in separate rooms.
Earlier UN mediation has failed due to the conservative agenda that collapsed over opposition demands that the Syrian president leave power. The current talks revolve around making plans for a political settlement to the nine-year war that has left 370,000 people dead, according to unofficial numbers. They target discussing the future constitution and then holding UN-supervised elections.
The harmony between the government and opposition nowadays is just a step forward to finding a solution for the Syrian crisis. Indeed, Syria needs more than a political solution after a long conflict that has caused one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes over the decade.
With allied Russian forces on the ground, Syrian forces could restore large swathes of the country controlled in recent years by rebels, who now just control a small pocket of north-western Syria.
However, Syria shall start working on more plans after an agreement on the constitution, including reconstruction of demolished infrastructure and reorganisation of administrative and legislative bodies. Nine years of war have resulted in a devastated economy and huge debts. The constitution discussion therefore bears high expectations for the badly needed political process and must be followed with economic reform.