UN envoy optimistic of Syria constitution committee soon

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The U.N. special envoy for Syria said Tuesday that he is “optimistic” an agreement can be reached on the long-sought formation of a committee to draft a new constitution for the war-torn country so it can meet this summer.

Geir Pederson told reporters after briefing the Security Council that he based his optimism on the “intensive” and “very good” dialogue he has had with the Syrian government and opposition — as well as “tangible progress,” including on the committee’s rules of procedure and composition.

He told the council that six names on the disputed 50-member civil society list need to be removed, and he believes an agreement can be reached with “goodwill” and “just a little” compromise.

Pedersen said convening the constitutional committee “could be a first sign of real movement” and “help unlock a broader political process — towards U.N.-supervised elections” and hopefully ending the eight-year civil war.

The more than yearlong effort to form a 150-member constitutional committee has been dogged by objections from Syria’s government over the 50-member list representing experts, independents, tribal leaders and women. There is already agreement on 50-member lists from the government and the opposition.

Pedersen said another priority is the need to speed up and expand the release of detainees and abductees and to clarify the fate of thousands of missing persons. He said the government and opposition “should move away from the one-for-one exchange framework” and scale-up releases.

“Meaningful progress on this key humanitarian file would send a positive signal to Syrians,” he said. “It would be an important confidence-building measure.”

He also said that while any political settlement must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, the conflict is “highly internationalized” and its outcome “must enjoy international support and legitimacy.”

Pedersen said he wants to use agreement on a constitutional committee “to see revitalized broad-based international cooperation.” He said “a common forum” to support political progress must be found.

“I’m currently having a discussion with myself and with different international actors on this,” Pedersen said. “What I need is a committed group to come together and to support all the efforts of relaunching the political process in Geneva.”q