Syria talks restart after nine months with Covid-19 measures in place


Intra-Syrian talks about a new constitution started again on Monday at the United Nations in Geneva, after a nine-month pause due to disagreement over the agenda and travel restrictions related to the pandemic.

The 15 delegates each from the Syrian government, opposition and civil society were tested for the novel coronavirus shortly before travelling and upon arrival in Switzerland.

Seated far apart in a large hall at the UN Palace of Nations, the three groups are set to work on constitutional reform, in a process that is meant to build momentum towards a political solution to the bloody civil war that has lasted nearly a decade and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

The opposition made clear that its expectations are low.

“We all know by now that this regime does not want to get involved in a political solution or a constitutional committee and they are always working towards placing obstacles,” said Yahya al-Aridi, a member of the opposition negotiating committee.

UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen made clear before the week-long talks that he does not expect any breakthroughs, but hopes to set up more regular encounters between the opposing sides.

The negotiation process could be helped if both sides build trust by addressing the fate of the war’s many detainees and missing persons, according to Pedersen.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has shown little appetite for concessions, following the government’s military successes.
Envoys from the United States, Turkey, Russia and Iran will also be in Geneva this week to meet Pedersen, but they will not take part in the UN-brokered Syria talks.

While Washington and Ankara back the Syrian opposition, Russia and Iran have supported al-Assad.

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