Astana process pushes constitutional committee for Syria
Officials from Turkey, Russia and Iran met on April 25 in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan to discuss the Idlib province in northwest Syria and efforts to draft a new Syrian constitution, a major step for a future political settlement of the war-torn country.
Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry said that teams from the three powers, as well as negotiators from the Syrian regime and its armed opponents, had arrived in the capital for “two-way and three-way format” talks ahead of an expected plenary session on April 26.
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 committee is of particular interest to the UN which favors a Syrian-led resolution to the conflict, but it may be hamstrung from the outset, the diplomat warned. “Even if a Constitutional Committee is created, it will then take a long time to reach a very uncertain result,” the diplomat told AFP.
The decision to set up a constitutional committee was agreed on at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 30, 2018. The foreign ministers of the Astana troika - Russia, Iran and Turkey - handed over to former UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura the list of the committee’s members.
However, the names proposed for the committee of civil society were dominated by former Syrian government officials, according to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Russia and Iran for months have been conducting diplomacy with the Syrian government to revise this list.
The situation on the ground in the northwestern region of Idlib, under the administrative control of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), is expected to feature prominently in the talks. Idlib has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a September deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey. But regime bombardment has increased since HTS took full control of the region from rival rebels in January.
Other items of the talks were prisoner swaps and the distribution of humanitarian aid. 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.