Russia is asking the Syrian government and opposition to agree on a constitutional reform process of up to 18 months, which will be followed by early presidential elections, according to a document circulated that talks about ending the nearly five-year-long civil war.
According to Reuters, the proposal does not include Bashar al-Assad stepping down from the seat of president, something that the opposition had demanded. The document said, “(The) popularly elected president of Syria will have the functions of commander-in-chief of the armed forces, control of special services and foreign policy.”
According to the Times of Israel, the document calls for UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to deploy a process between Syria and “a united delegation of the opposition groups.” Russia said that the two sides should come to an agreement ahead of a conference organized by the United Nations. The reform, it added, will be chaired by a candidate agreed on by all sides, and not Assad.
Assad has received support from Russia and Iran during the civil war that has lasted for nearly five years. On the other hand, the United States, its Gulf allies and Turkey have said that Assad must leave power for there to be peace in the country.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, said it was regrettable that the document had been leaked. “It’s our vision — it’s our proposal,” he said. “And of course we are receptive for proposals from the other side. It’s just Russian contribution, how we launch a political process … to make parties work together, government and opposition.”
British Ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, acknowledged Russia’s plans for the constitutional reform process, saying, “We welcome any constructive ideas that will accelerate an end of this terrible conflict.”
Russia said in Vienna last month that it wanted opposition groups to take part in discussions, and it exchanged a list of names with Saudi Arabia. But British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said that it is “not going to be possible to bring the opposition groups into the political process and have an effective ceasefire unless we have a clear point at which President Assad will depart.”
The document says that the opposition sides participating in the political process must present a “united delegation.” The opposition delegation, the document says, “has to be agreed beforehand, including on the basis of readiness of respective groups to share the goals of preventing terrorists from coming to power in Syria and of ensuring sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Syria, as well as secular and democratic character of the state.”
Western diplomats expressed their concerns about the difficulty of getting nations opposed to Assad to agree on Russia’s proposal. One such diplomat said, “The document does not suit a lot of people.”