For the first time since the civil war began nearly a decade ago, Syrian opposition and government representatives met to draft a new constitution for the country. UN mediator Geir Pederson called it a “historic moment.”
Opposing sides in the Syrian civil war met on Wednesday for the first time in eight and a half years in an attempt to put together a new constitution for the war-torn country.
Some 150 Syrian delegates sat down together in Geneva, Switzerland: 50 represent the government; 50 the opposition and 50 represent civil society.
UN Syria envoy Geir Pederson called the so-called “constitution convention” a “historic moment.”
“I know it’s not easy for you to be together in this room,” the Norwegian diplomat told the assembled delegates. “But this is a powerful sign of hope for Syrians everywhere.”
“We affirm that we will work sincerely on all that can improve the reality of our people,” said Ahmed Kuzbari, the most senior government official present and representative of President Bashar Assad. Yet he also stressed that the Syrian army would continue fighting “terrorists” in Syria during the convention.
“We continue this fight during our meeting and we will keep up the fight after our meeting until the liberation of the last precious inch of our precious homeland,” he told the convention.
Top opposition leader Hadi Bahra pleaded for mutual understanding.
“We must go beyond our wounds, pain and suffering. We must start listening to each other.”
Attempt to reach a consensus
Following the opening ceremony, 45 of the delegates began working on a draft constitution with the aim of reaching consensus. A 75%-majority voting system will be used to make major changes if a consensus is impossible.
The talks were brokered by the United Nations and only Syrian delegates were present.
Previous UN-mediated talks failed to engage both the opposition and government sides. These talks will mark the first real attempt to engage in dialogue since civil war broke out in 2011.
Russia and Iran, which support Assad’s government, and Turkey, which supports the opposition, expressed hope that this so-called constitutional committee could lead to the end of the conflict.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said “We urge the sides to reach an agreement.” Although the three main powers in the region will not be represented at the talks, Lavrov met his Turkish and Iranian counterparts at the UN seat in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss the constitution.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif pledged that the three countries would not intervene in the Syria. His Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu made no such promise, but said he remained optimistic.