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Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks to the press at United Nations headquarters in the Manhatt...

UN says deal reached on committee for new Syria constitution

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced Wednesday that a long-sought agreement has been reached on the composition of a committee to draft a new constitution for Syria, an important step toward hopefully ending the more than eight-year conflict.

The U.N. chief told a news conference that U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen “is doing the final work with the parties in relation to the terms of reference, and we hope that this will be very soon concluded.”

Guterres expressed hope that formation of the constitutional committee “will be a very important step in creating the conditions for a political solution for this tragic conflict.”

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At a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. This was a key step toward elections and a political settlement to the Syrian conflict, which has killed over 400,000 people.

There was early agreement on 50-member lists from the Syrian government and the opposition. But it has taken nearly 20 months to agree on the list the United Nations was authorized to put together representing experts, independents, tribal leaders and women, mainly because of objections from the Syrian government.

Pedersen, the U.N. envoy, told the Security Council in late August that the package to resolve outstanding names and terms of reference and rules of procedure was “nearly finalized, and the outstanding differences are, in my assessment, comparatively minor.”

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He said he was “quietly hopeful” an agreement would be announced before world leaders gather next week for their annual meeting at the General Assembly.

An agreement on a blueprint for peace in Syria that was approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the U.N., Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five veto-wielding Security Council members — the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain — remains the basis for ending the conflict.

It calls for a Syrian-led political process starting with the establishment of a transitional governing body vested with full executive powers, moving on to the drafting of a new constitution and ending with elections. The Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement in a resolution in December 2015 that set a timetable for talks and a cease-fire that was never met.