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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syrian Constitutional Talks Resume After COVID-19 Threat Fades

By Lisa Schlein August 27, 2020

Negotiations to draft a new constitution for Syria have resumed at U.N. headquarters in Geneva. They were temporarily suspended after four members of the Constitutional Committee tested positive for COVID-19 Monday.

The talks, which are a crucial element in ending Syria's nearly decadelong conflict barely got off the ground before they were stopped. The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, was clearly upbeat when he announced that Swiss health authorities had given the green light for the talks to go ahead.

He said secondary testing done in recent days for the coronavirus indicated the earlier positive cases posed no risks. Nevertheless, he said, meetings of the 45-member Constitutional Committee will proceed with extreme caution and with strict safety measures in place.

"We are at this stage proceeding here in the Palais des Nations only with those who have tested negative," he said. "This is out of an abundance of caution and based on the advice of the United Nations medical authorities."

Pedersen said committee members had told him they were eager to resume the negotiations. He said this was a good sign for the difficult process ahead. At the start of this round of talks, Pedersen said he did not expect any major breakthroughs, but he believed even small progress toward building confidence and trust could lead toward a political settlement.

"I have also received a strong signal of support from key international players for the United Nations' facilitation of the Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process, and this is indeed very much appreciated," he said.

Representatives from Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States are in Geneva monitoring the talks from afar. Pedersen said they would have no involvement in the proceedings, though he would be meeting them on the sidelines.

The U.N. mediator called the first meeting earlier this week constructive. Before it was halted, he said the committee had agreed on a clear agenda for this session. He said he was looking forward to substantive discussions over the next few days.

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