UN envoy lands in Damascus for fresh peace talks

UN envoy lands in Damascus for fresh peace talks
Geir Pedersen, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat and the fourth UN ambassador to seek an end to the civil war, landed in Damascus on Tuesday.
3 min read
10 July, 2019
Pedersen landed in Damascus on Tuesday [Getty]
The UN special envoy for Syria arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to press fresh talks on forming a constitutional committee to revive a stalling peace process to end the eight-year war.

"Pleased to be back in Damascus," Geir Pedersen, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat and the fourth UN ambassador to seek an end to the civil war, wrote on Twitter.

His visit, the fourth since taking up the job in January, comes as the regime and their Russian ally have been carrying out deadly bombardment of the jihadist-run region of Idlib in northwest Syria.

"Hopeful we can move the political process forward with the constitutional committee as a door opener, and that we can find a way to end the violence in Idlib," Pedersen said in the tweet.

His predecessor, Staffan de Mistura, stepped down after a four-year tenure that ended with an abortive push to form the committee to draw up a post-war constitution.

The regime wants to amend the existing constitution, while the opposition have called for a new one entirely.

The committee is to be made up of 150 members, 50 chosen by the regime, the same number by the opposition, and another 50 selected by the UN envoy.

Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said Pedersen was set to meet senior officials from the foreign ministry on Wednesday.

If Damascus accepted Pedersen's proposed list, "the committee could start work in September", sources told the newspaper in its Tuesday issue.

Pedersen also said he hoped, during his visit, to "continue work on detainees, abductees, and missing persons" since the start of the conflict.

Numerous rounds of UN-led peace talks have failed to end a war that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since erupting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Read more: Conditions in Syria's al-Hol camp 'apocalyptic': Red Cross

In recent years, a parallel negotiations track led by Russia and rebel backer Turkey has taken precedence.

With key military backing from Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's forces have retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and jihadists since 2015, and now control around 60 percent of the country.

'On the rebound'

Pedersen’s arrival in Damascus followed a rare visit by Oman's top diplomat who on Sunday met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Muscat said, in the Gulf official's second visit to the war-torn country since conflict broke out in 2011.

Oman's state minister for foreign affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah met with Assad to discuss bilateral relations and regional security, the sultanate's foreign ministry said in a statement. 

It added that Abdullah also met with Syrian regime foreign minister Walid Muallem.

Oman is one of the few Arab states to have maintained ties with the Syrian regime over the past eight years.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 for its brutal crackdown on protests against Assad's rule, and fellow Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, announced support for the opposition.

Oman's Sultan Qaboos adheres to a strict policy of non-interference in regional affairs, maintaining relations with rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran - a key backer of Assad.

Abdullah visited Damascus in 2015, the Syrian regime's SANA news agency reported at the time, to discuss ways to "resolve the crisis in Syria". 

During a visit to Oman last year, foreign minister Muallem praised Muscat for taking "supportive positions towards Syria at various Arab and international forums", the state-run Oman News Agency reported.

The Syrian regime’s ties with some Arab nations are on the rebound. 

The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus late last year after years of closure, and the Assad regime’s relations with Bahrain and Jordan have also improved. 

But Saudi Arabia has not yet re-established ties with Assad, who has made a military comeback with support from Russia since 2015, gaining control of almost two-thirds of the country.

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