World

UN envoy: All Syria parties agree to talks on constitution

For the first time, all parties to Syria's conflict — including the divided opposition — have agreed to take part in expert talks to help lay the foundation for a new constitution, the U.N. special envoy for the country said Monday.

Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council in a video briefing from Geneva he is also pleased that all parties were receptive to a seventh round of political talks, which he intends to hold sometime in June.

He said there was additional "good news" in reports of "a significant drop in violence, including in aerial bombardment, in most areas" since a high-level meeting this month in Astana, Kazakhstan, of the three guarantors of the December cease-fire — Russia, Turkey and Iran.

But de Mistura also cited "not-so-good news" in reports of continuing hostilities and bombings involving the government and some opposition groups in areas, including Hama, Homs and Damascus, which appear to be outside the de-escalation zones established by the three guarantors.

"Our goal is not just de-escalation but the realization of the nationwide cease-fire," de Mistura said, "and thus we have a common interest in ensuring that no party takes advantage of any ambiguities to make territorial gains or divert resources to other battlefronts."

During the latest political talks last week, the U.N. envoy told the council he saw "an opportunity and a need" to focus on constitutional and legal issues because no party to the conflict "will accept a constitutional, legal or institutional vacuum in Syria before, during or after any negotiated transitional political process."

De Mistura stressed that the U.N. isn't seeking to draft a new constitution, which must remain the right of the Syrian people.

"We are laying foundations for the time when the Syrians can do that," he said.

De Mistura said he informed the parties during separate meetings with them that he intended to establish "a technical consultative process" to examine these issues.

With their input, he said, the process is already "up and running."

De Mistura said U.N. experts held separate technical meetings last Thursday and Friday with experts from the government, the official opposition delegation to the Geneva political talks, and rival opposition delegations from Moscow and Cairo.

The U.N. envoy said "constructive discussions" were also held on how experts from the Moscow and Cairo delegations might join expert meetings of the official opposition delegation.

"We should encourage them to make this a reality during the next round," de Misutra said.

"This would send an important new signal of opposition unity," he said.

While this isn't an immediate prospect, de Mistura said, "we hope this would take us closer to the possibility for direct negotiations between government and opposition."