Syrian FM tells UN envoy Mistura constitution is sovereign matter

BEIRUT: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moualem told UN envoy Staffan de Mistura that the constitution was a “sovereign matter” up to the Syrian people, state media said on Wednesday.
On a visit to Damascus, De Mistura discussed a delayed process which aims to rewrite the constitution, after many futile talks to end Syria’s more than seven-year-old war.
“The constitution and everything related to it is a purely sovereign matter that the Syrian people decide on without any foreign intervention through which some states seek to impose their will,” Moualem said.
The two talked about “efforts to make progress in the political process”, the state news agency Sana said.
De Mistura has a mandate from the UN Security Council to forge a political settlement in Syria, where government forces have retaken much of the country from rebels and militants. A congress convened by Russia, Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s key ally, in January tasked him with forming a committee to draft a new constitution which would eventually lead to new elections.
But nine rounds of UN-based talks in Geneva have never led to direct meetings between the warring sides and the prospect of negotiating a peace deal looks increasingly unlikely.
The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced at least 11 million others.
De Mistura announced last week he would step down at the end of November, but said he would first travel to the Syrian capital to seek the government’s approval of a UN-backed constitutional committee.
The Italian-Swedish diplomat met Walid Muallem but without making any apparent progress.
“We had a very frank and very intense exchange of opinions concerning the constitutional committee and the political process in general,” De Mistura said after the meeting.
He described the meeting as “long” but did not provide any information on progress made or whether he was staying on in Damascus.
State news agency Sana said De Mistura and Muallem discussed the envoy’s efforts to “activate the political process and form a committee to discuss the constitution”.
Muallem stressed that creating a new constitution must be a Syrian-led process and shunned “any foreign interference”.
“This entire process must be under Syrian leadership and ownership. The constitution, and everything related to it, is purely a matter of sovereignty that will be decided by the Syrian people itself without any foreign interference,” he told De Mistura, according to Sana.
The envoy travelled to Damascus at the invitation of Syrian authorities and would stay for a “couple of days”, according to the United Nations, which did not say whether he would also meet President Assad.
Earlier this year, Moscow invited representatives of Syria’s government and opposition to the Russian resort town of Sochi and proposed creating a committee to revise the constitution.
De Mistura had hoped the committee would be ready before the fall, but agreeing on its makeup has taken longer than expected.
The committee is expected to include 150 members: 50 chosen by Damascus, 50 by the opposition and the final 50 by De Mistura.
He has said the Syrian government is objecting to the UN’s share, which includes civil society representatives, religious and tribal leaders, experts and women.
The regime has also insisted the body would simply “discuss” the current constitution while opposition groups seek deeper changes. The UN itself has referred to “drafting constitutional reform”.
At 71, De Mistura is the UN’s third envoy on the Syrian crisis, and its longest-serving with four years under his belt. He said he was leaving the post for “purely personal reasons”, wanting to spend more time with family.
His successor has not yet been named. — Agencies