Syria constitutional talks 'on hold' after three test positive for coronavirus

Three of the 45 delegates participating in the so-called Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva tested positive for the virus.

al-monitor A journalist wearing a protective face mask films the arrival of the bus carrying a delegation taking part in a meeting of Syria Constitutional Committee at the United Nations offices in Geneva on Aug. 24, 2020. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images.

Aug 24, 2020

The UN-led talks aimed at drafting a new constitution for Syria are “on hold” after three out of 45 participants tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the office of UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pederson said Monday. 

“Immediate measures have been taken consistent with protocols to mitigate any risks, and tracing of anyone who may have been in close contact with affected persons is underway,” a statement from Pederson’s office said.

“Following a constructive first meeting, the Third Session of the Constitutional Committee is currently on hold,” the UN mediator’s office said, adding that another announcement would follow. 

The statement did not identify which members had contracted the virus, but said delegates were tested before and after arriving in Geneva. During their first meeting at the Palais des Nations, which houses the United Nations in the Swiss city, mask-wearing and strict social distancing measures were in place, the special envoy’s office said. 

Tasked with finding a political resolution to end the civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more, the so-called Constitutional Committee has yielded few meaningful results. 

The Syrian-led, Moscow-backed body, which includes representatives from government, opposition and civil society groups, hasn’t met in nine months. The last round of talks broke down over disagreements about the agenda. 

Pederson has downplayed expectations for this week’s meeting, saying he hoped it would help build trust and serve as a “door-opener to a broader political process.” 

President Bashar al-Assad has the upper hand in Syria’s long-running conflict, having regained control of most of the country with Russian and Iranian support. A pocket in the northeast is still held by Kurdish forces, and the northwestern province of Idlib remains in rebel hands. 

A fragile cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey in March is largely holding in the northwest, but US special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey told reporters in Geneva that he believes Assad still has his sights set on toppling the last bastion of resistance.

“I have seen no indication that the Assad regime has given up its dream of a military victory beginning with Idlib,” said Jeffrey. 

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