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Russia’s Syria Talks End With Plan to Draft New Constitution

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hailed the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue as an important step toward peace in Syria.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hailed the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue as an important step toward peace in Syria.

A Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference ended on Tuesday with a plan to draft a new constitution as part of efforts to end the nearly seven-year civil war, but key opposition and rebel groups boycotted the gathering and it remained unclear if they would join the process.

The conference, held in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, was also overshadowed by renewed fighting in northern Syria, AP reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hailed the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue as an important step toward peace in Syria and sought to play down the opposition boycott.

“No one expected that it would be possible to bring together representatives of all groups of Syrians without exclusion,” he told reporters after the talks. “There is no big tragedy that two or three groups weren’t able to attend.”

Lavrov said the conference participants agreed to form a constitutional committee that will be based in Geneva. He said that the delegates proposed some of the committee’s members and that groups absent from the Sochi talks will be invited to name representatives.

A statement approved by the delegates said a final agreement on criteria for selecting members, the constitutional committee’s powers and its rules of procedure would be reached in Geneva under the United Nation’s aegis.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria who has been leading Syrian peace talks in Geneva, said he would move quickly to set a schedule and a process for drafting the new constitution in Geneva “because Syria cannot wait.”

“All Syrians seek a safe, calm and neutral environment for a constitutional drafting to unfold,” he said in a statement. “All Syrians need a sustained cease-fire, full humanitarian access and the release (of) detainees, abductees and missing people.”

De Mistura told reporters at UN headquarters in New York late Tuesday by audio link from Sochi that he believes talks on a new constitution could achieve results because countries with influence on the government and opposition appear determined to insist that both sides engage.

Alexander Lavrentyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Syria, said 1,393 delegates attended the congress. He said the Sochi organizers were aiming to help revive the UN-backed talks in Geneva, not to sidetrack them.

The Geneva negotiations have made little progress since they began four years ago. The opposition’s demand that President Bashar Assad play no role in a future political transition that has been the main sticking point.

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