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Russia’s top diplomat heads to Geneva ahead of Syrian Constitutional Committee launch

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Yekaterina Shtukina/POOL/TASS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© Yekaterina Shtukina/POOL/TASS

GENEVA, October 29. /TASS/. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will travel to Geneva on Tuesday to attend a ministerial meeting in the Astana format ahead of the upcoming launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.

Besides, he will take part in a ministerial meeting in the Astana format and together with the Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers, Mohammad Javad Zarif and Mevlut Cavusoglu, will speak with the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen ahead of the first session of the Constitutional Commission on October 30.

The ministerial meeting in Geneva and talks with Pedersen will be held separately from the committee’s session. The only role that Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as other nations, are expected to play in the Syrian peace process is to prevent any outside attempt to disrupt political settlement.

However, the three ministers will have lots of other issues to discuss, including the situation in northeastern Syria, where Turkey launched its Peace Spring military operation on October 9.

On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a memorandum on joint actions in northeastern Syria. According to the document, as of noon October 23, Russian military police and Syrian border guards have started to monitor the withdrawal of Kurdish military formations to the depth of 30 km from the border. Russia and Turkey are to begin the joint patrolling of the area 150 hours later.

Therefore, the deadline expires late on Tuesday, October 29. Ankara vowed to resume the operation if Kurdish forces fail to withdraw from the 30-km border zone.

On top of that, the sides are also expected to discuss the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone, where the Jabhat Al-Nusrah terrorist group (outlawed in Russia) and its affiliates still remain active. At the same time, Idlib remains a major stronghold of the Syrian opposition. According to the Damascus government, a strong Turkish military contingent is also stationed in the area.

Syrian Constitutional Committee

The decision to set up a constitutional committee was made during the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, held in the Russian resort of Sochi on January 30, 2018.

By late 2018, thanks to the Astana format’s efforts, the list was almost ready and expected to be approved during the trilateral meeting of foreign ministers from Russia, Iran and Turkey in Geneva in mid-September. However, the attempt failed. Lavrov later explained that the delay was caused by the influence of states who are not interested in political settlement of the Syrian crisis.

The work continued in the months that followed, and, according to Russian diplomats, only about two or three candidacies remained to be agreed. The full list of the committee members was approved only during the Astana Format summit on September 16, 2019.

On September 23, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced the establishment of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, praising it as the first step in political settlement of the Syrian crisis. UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen later said that the first session of the committee would take place on October 30 in Geneva’s Palace of Nations. It will begin at noon local time (13:00 Moscow time).

Russia welcomed the creation of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. President Vladimir Putin said on September 16 that the committee’s work "will play a decisive role in normalizing the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic."

The full list of participants have not yet been announced. However, it is known that the body will have two co-chairs, one nominated by the government (Ahmad Kuzbari) and the other - by the opposition (Hadi Al Bahra).

The committee is made of 150 people, divided up into 50 delegates for Damascus, 50 representatives for the opposition and 50 for civil societies.

Each group is also obliged to name 15 experts to take part in the meetings of ‘an editorial commission’ to be held in Geneva behind closed doors. The commission will work on a permanent basis and submit its proposals to the committee.

The Committee and the Commission are to adopt their decisions by consensus whenever possible. If no consensus can be reached, the decision-making threshold has been set at 75%. When the new - or revised - constitution is ready, elections are to be held in Syria in line with it. Relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Syria did not specify whether those elections should be presidential or parliamentary ones.

No deadlines for the committee’s work have so far been set, despite the opposition’s calls to do so.

Although the committee had been established largely through the efforts of Russia, Iran and Syria, the Astana Format nations have no plans to interfere into its work. The three nations have always stressed that the Syrian constitution should be drafted by Syrians themselves.