Syria tells outgoing UN envoy to stay out of constitution

Syria's top diplomat told the outgoing U.N. envoy Wednesday to stay out of matters concerning the war-torn country's constitution, state media reported, while the U.N. official said they had "a very intense exchange of opinions."

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem reportedly told U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura that the constitution is a "sovereign" matter and that Damascus will not allow any foreign intervention or meddling in it.

The remarks were carried by the state-run SANA news agency after the two met in Damascus.

De Mistura announced he would resign for personal reasons earlier this month after years of mediating peace talks that led nowhere. But he said he hoped to broker an agreement on advancing a new constitution for Syria before stepping down next month.

The opposition has called for a new constitution that would allow for a political transition away from the Assad family's decades of rule. But after a string of major victories, the government shows little interest in making any concessions.

"During the meeting we had a very frank, a very intense exchange of opinions concerning the constitutional committee and the political process in general," de Mistura told reporters after the meeting. He said he will not elaborate because he still has to brief the U.N. secretary-general and the Security Council.

A statement released by de Mistura's office later said the U.N. envoy will be engaging in "intensive further consultations" to explore the possibility of convening a Syrian constitutional committee.

Al-Moallem was quoted by SANA as saying that "the constitution and everything related to it are purely a sovereign affair that is decided by the Syrian people without any foreign intervention."

De Mistura told Security Council members last week that while there is agreement on the 50-member government and opposition delegations for the drafting committee, the government objects to a third 50-member delegation that the U.N. put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

De Mistura has been trying since February to set up a constitutional committee as a key step toward elections and a political settlement to the more than seven-year Syrian conflict, which has killed some 400,000 people.


Mroue reported from Beirut.