Syrian government, opposition agree on drafting new constitution -envoy

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© Reuters/POOL Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen in Moscow

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria said on Sunday the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee had agreed to start the process of drafting a new constitution.

The committee, comprising 45 representatives of Syria’s government, opposition and civil society, has a mandate to draw up a new basic law leading to U.N.-supervised elections.

Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said its Syrian co-chairs, who he met together for the first time ahead of week-long talks, had agreed to “prepare and start drafting constitutional reform.”

The talks, the sixth round in two years and the first since January for the drafting committee, will discuss “clear principles”, he told reporters in Geneva, without elaborating.

The decade-old war, which spiralled out of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, sparked the world’s biggest refugee crisis. Syria’s neighbours host 5.6 million refugees and European countries more than 1 million.

After support from ally Russia, Assad has recovered most of Syria, but significant areas remain outside his control: Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and northwest and U.S. forces are stationed in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.

In January Pedersen, a veteran Norwegian diplomat, said that Assad’s representatives had rejected proposals by the Syrian opposition as well as the envoy’s own ideas for moving the process forward.

“Since then close to nine months I have been negotiating between the parties, trying to be able to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward. And I am very pleased to say that we have reached such a consensus,” he said on Sunday.

Western diplomats say Russia had prodded Damascus in recent weeks to show flexibility in the talks, and Pedersen has made two trips to Moscow in recent months.

“The Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process but the committee in itself will not be able to solve the political crisis,” he said on Sunday.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; editing by John Stonestreet)

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