June 27, 2019 / 9:18 AM / 6 months ago

U.N. looks for U.S.-Russia understanding to spur Syria peace process

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen attends a session of the peace talks on Syria in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov

GENEVA (Reuters) - “A deeper understanding” between Russia and the United States is needed to move the Syrian peace process forward, U.N. Syria envoy Geir Pedersen said in an interview published on Thursday.

Successive U.N. envoys have failed to stop Syria’s eight-year war, which has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and led to an exodus of refugees.

Pedersen, the fourth man in the job, is trying to arrange a committee to oversee the reform of Syria’s constitution — a modest effort, compared with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s attempt to reach a peace agreement at an international conference in 2012.

“Obviously, a Constitutional Committee in itself will not change much,” Pedersen said in an interview published by the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. “But if handled correctly, and if there is political will, it could be a door-opener for a broader political process.

He told the key players that he needed “a different international set-up”, Pedersen said, and wanted to convene a group of influential states alongside the Constitutional Committee meeting.

It would include the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and two groups of countries that have been politically active on Syria: the “Astana Group” comprising Iran and Turkey as well as Russia, and the “Small Group”, which includes Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain and the United States.

“This is indicative of the fact that we are in a new phase ... this has been going on for too long, and it should be possible to move forward. This would, of course, require a deeper understanding between Russia and the U.S. on how to move forward,” he said. “We are also working on that.”

Pedersen said he had pressed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition Syrian National Commission on the importance of tackling the issue of people who had been detained or abducted or were missing, and he had appealed to them for “bigger unilateral steps on this”.

Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Toby Chopra, Larry King

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