Russia: Syria constitution body could be agreed on soon

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The Syrian government and armed opposition groups, together with both sides’ backers, could agree on the makeup of a constitutional committee in coming months, Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said on Friday.

Forming a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end an eight-year war which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million.

The sides have so far failed to agree the constitutional committee’s makeup, and a fresh round of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, produced no apparent breakthrough on Friday.

But Lavrentyev said it was close.

Diplomats from Russia, Iran and Turkey will meet with United Nations negotiators in Geneva to discuss the issue again, he said, adding that the issue was “at the finish line.”

“The timing has not been agreed yet, taking into account the upcoming month of Ramadan, it is most likely to happen after that,” Lavrentyev told reporters.

“But I think by that time (UN mediator) Mr Pedersen will be able to announce” the establishment of the committee.

Ramadan starts on May 5 this year and ends on June 4.

Russia, a backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has taken a lead role in diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan that has largely sidelined UN diplomacy.

Tehran, like Moscow, is an ally of Assad’s regime, while Ankara has aligned itself with the rebels but has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurdish fighters on the Syrian side of its southern border that it views as “terrorists.”

On Thursday, a Western diplomat told AFP that Moscow will be aware of perceptions that recent rounds of the so-called “Astana process” have made little progress and may push to speed up the creation of a long-awaited constitutional committee.

The capital of Kazakhstan was called Astana until last month, when it was renamed after the country’s outgoing president.

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