UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Syria has expressed regret that talks between the government and opposition scheduled to start on July 25 in Geneva “are no longer possible,” reportedly because President Bashir Assad’s government contends that Switzerland is not neutral because of its support for European Union sanctions against its ally Russia.
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq didn’t directly confirm the reason but said Monday that “we do reaffirm the neutrality of Switzerland as a venue for much of the work that the United Nations does.” Geneva is the major European headquarters for the 193-member United Nations.
Syrian envoy Geir Pedersen said in a statement that a ninth round of talks on revising the constitution of the conflict-torn country could not be held and alluded to the neutrality issue, stressing the importance of all players in the 11-year conflict “protecting and firewalling the Syrian political process from their differences elsewhere in the world.”
Haq stressed that “discussions on Syria need to be kept as much as possible separate and apart from discussions on other topics.”
A 2012 U.N. road map to peace in Syria approved by representatives of the United Nations, Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members including Russia calls for the drafting of a new constitution. It ends with U.N.-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate. A Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015 unanimously endorsed the road map.
At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. A smaller, 45-member body would do the actual drafting, including 15 members each from the government, opposition and civil society. It took until September 2019 for the committee to be formed, and after eight rounds of talks little progress has been achieved so far.
Russia's military support for Syria changed the trajectory of the Syrian conflict. The EU imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and stepped up sanctions after President Vladimir Putin's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Pedersen encouraged the Syrian parties “to engage in constructive diplomacy" and said he would continue to engage with them “and provide more information in due course.”
Haq, the U.N. spokesman, said Pedersen didn’t want “any sorts of events that are just for show” when it became clear that the July 25-29 meeting could not take place in Geneva.
“He’ll keep working to see what actual substantive results he can make for the Syrian people, who have been waiting for far too long for progress on this,” Haq said. “At this stage, I don’t have any other venue … and we will see what happens next.”