Syria constitutional talks stuck on first day of new round

Co-chair and opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission head Hadi Al-Bahra (C) is greeted upon his arrival for a new round of discussions of the Syria constitution-writing committee on November 25, 2019 at the United Nations Offices in Geneva. (AFP)
Updated 25 November 2019

Syria constitutional talks stuck on first day of new round

  • The talks are meant to be a step forward in what the UN says will be a long road to political rapprochement
  • Syrian TV reported that the government delegation left the UN in Geneva because they did not get answers to their proposal

GENEVA: Damascus government delegates to a Syrian Constitutional Committee left the second UN-sponsored round before it began on Monday, in what opposition members said was a stalling tactic, and it was unclear whether talks would take place on Tuesday.
The talks are meant to be a step forward in what the United Nations says will be a long road to political rapprochement, followed by elections.
But experts question whether President Bashar Assad will be willing to cede much in any negotiations after his Russian- and Iranian-back forces recaptured large areas of the country in offensives against rebels and militants since 2015.
Syrian television reported that the government delegation left the United Nations in Geneva on Monday because they did not get answers to their proposal to specify a work schedule.
UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen met the two co-chairs from the government and opposition sides and was continuing his consultations with a view to the panel’s resumption, a UN spokeswoman said.
“The situation is clearly blocked,” a Western diplomat said.
The opening round of the first Syrian peace talks in more than a year went “better than most people would have expected,” Pedersen told reporters on Nov. 8 after an opening 10-day round.
Forty-five delegates who form the committee’ drafting group arrived at the UN European headquarters on Monday. The group is made up of 15 members each from the government, opposition and civil society but they did not meet together.
“The Constitutional Committee of today was not held. And the reason is there is no agreement on the program or the schedule to be discussed for the meeting,” Yahya Al-Aridi, a Syrian opposition spokesman, told reporters upon leaving.
“The joint head of the Constitutional Committee from the regime side presented an item which is considered by him to be a schedule, namely it included fighting terrorism, it included lifting of sanctions and the condemnation of what he called the Turkish invasion,” Aridi said, describing the government demands as “political.”
Opposition delegate Bassma Kodmani said her side had proposed an agenda last week for a structured discussion but had had no reply.
“Now the government delegate comes with an agenda saying they want to discuss ‘basic patriotic principles’ as a set of pre-conditions to the constitutional discussion,” Kodmani told Reuters.
The opposition was willing to discuss such principles as part of the constitutional work but not outside it, she said.
“The approach they (the government) suggest is designed to buy time,” Kodmani said.


UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

Updated 13 min 35 sec ago

UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

  • Husband Richard Ratcliffe: Iran has ordered Nazanin to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen”

LONDON: Britain on Friday warned Iran against throwing detained woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back in jail, after hauling in Tehran’s envoy for a dressing-down over her emotive case.
The Foreign Office summoned Ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad on Thursday to hear renewed demands from a senior official for an end to the British-Iranian captive’s “arbitrary detention.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC radio Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in a “horrific position,” after her husband said Iran has ordered her to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail.
Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen,” Raab said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who will turn 42 on Boxing Day, has been on temporary release from Tehran’s Evin prison and under house arrest since earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
She has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016 while visiting relatives with her young daughter.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — denied charges of sedition but was convicted and jailed for five years.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016. (AFP)

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said this week that the Foreign Office’s handling of the case “seems disastrous,” and that “the UK is dancing to Iran’s tune.”
Raab told the BBC: “We’ve made it very clear we want to try to put the relationship between the UK and Iran on a better footing.
“If Nazanin is returned to prison, that will of course put our discussions and the basis of those discussions in a totally different place. It is entirely unacceptable.”
Richard Ratcliffe linked the latest development to the postponement of a hearing that was due to take place on Tuesday in London to address Iran’s longstanding demand for the repayment by Britain of hundreds of millions from an old military equipment order.
“As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,” he said, accusing Iran of “hostage diplomacy.”