A Syrian peace conference hosted by Russia, and held in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, concluded on Tuesday, January 30th. Termed the “Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue,” the talks were attended by almost 1500 delegates, with the goal of creating a framework for a new Syrian constitution. The enduring difficulties faced throughout the complex peace process was emphasized from the very beginning of the talks. Firstly, the opposition group, the Syrian Negotiation Committee (SNC), boycotted the conference, and the rest of the groups, who arrived later in Sochi, refused to leave the airport, taking offence at the use of Syrian regime flags for the event. Secondly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was heckled during his opening statement, when some delegates criticized Russia’s campaign of air strikes in Syria. Lastly, Turkey took its time agreeing to represent the interests of SNC. Finally, at the end of the event, it was announced that a Constitutional Committee will be formed and peace conference will be held under U.N. in Geneva.
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, attended the conference and said that the new committee will include representatives from both the Syrian government and the opposition groups. He noted the progress made, as there has never been “the government side and the opposition actually getting involved in a discussion of a new constitution, because they were not in agreement.” Now, they have reached that point. Naser al-Hariri, the chief negotiator for the SNC, emphasized his further commitment to peace talks as long as “the constitutional committee is…consistent with U.N. resolution 2254…we will continue to work with the U.N. process in this regard.” While attempts to further the operation is commendable, it must be ensured that the Syrian opposition continues to be included. Concerns have also been raised that the talks were merely reasserting Syria’s political agenda. Prior to the event, the U.N. sought assurances that they would not circumvent the U.N. Geneva peace process. Additionally, there was no mention, at the end of the conference, of what would be the fate of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In November of last year, the talks were announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin to draw-up a “framework for the future structure of the state.” Western countries such as the United States, France and Britain were not in attendance, supporting only the U.N. Geneva peace process, which has made little progress in the Syrian conflict. Russia has been a strong supporter of Assad’s regime and President Putin has been recently asserting a role as a Middle East peace broker.
Staffan De Mistura stated that “I will be indicating as soon as possible – because Syria cannot wait – how I intend to proceed.” It is undeniable that Syria does not have the luxury of time. Just three days ago at least 35 people were killed in airstrikes that were carried out in the Idlib Province during the talks. Increased efforts to achieve peace are essential to ending the suffering of the Syrians.
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