UNITED NATIONS — The top U.N. envoy for Syria on Tuesday urged the rival international players in Syria to bridge the divides that have blocked any moves toward peace, but the chasm remained too deep for the Security Council to take any action.
Geir Pedersen reiterated his disappointment to the U.N.'s most powerful body that after five rounds of preliminary discussions aimed at revising the war-torn country's constitution -- a key step toward U.N.-supervised elections -- ended without progress Jan. 29.
But the Security Council could not agree on a press statement that would have expressed regret "that 17 months after the launch of the Syrian-owned and Syrian-led Constitutional Committee, the drafting of a constitutional reform ... had not begun."
A revised statement dropped the expression of regret and made no mention of the Constitutional Committee, which diplomats said was at the request of Russia, a key ally of Syria's government. But after objections from some Western nations at eliminating that key point, the attempt by the British council presidency to issue a press statement was dropped, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.
After the council meeting, its three European Union members -- Estonia, France and Ireland along with previous members Germany and Belgium -- issued a statement expressing regret at "no substantial progress" on a constitution and "regret that the Syrian regime continues to obstruct the process, refusing to engage constructively on the proposals of the special envoy and of the Syrian opposition."
The failed effort to produce a Security Council statement, which dragged on for more than six hours, reflects the extreme difficulty of making any movement toward ending the Syrian conflict, now in its 11th year.
Pedersen's frustration was evident when he talked to reporters from Geneva after virtually briefing the council, calling the Constitutional Committee meeting was "a missed opportunity." He hinted at the time that the Syrian government delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.
Pedersen said he told council members that he needs "a credible engagement to ensure that if the committee reconvenes, it will function properly, work expeditiously, and achieve some results and continued progress."
More importantly, he said, "my key point was the need for a constructive international diplomacy on Syria." He said he is "more convinced than ever that without this," there will be no progress on a constitution or any other issue that needs to be resolved on the road to peace.
"The current divides in the international community need to be bridged, in an effort to define mutual and reciprocal steps, ... defined with realism and precision, that can create some trust and confidence and generate movement on the issues," Pedersen said.
There appears to be agreement on one issue.
Both draft press statements Tuesday referred to the need to adhere to a council resolution adopted in December 2015 that unanimously endorsed a road map to peace in Syria. It was approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012, by representatives of the United Nations, Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members — the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain.
The road map calls for a Syrian-led political process starting with the establishment of a transitional governing body, followed by the drafting of a new constitution and ending with U.N.-supervised elections. The resolution says the free and fair elections should meet "the highest international standards" of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians — including members of the diaspora — eligible to participate.
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, which took until September 2019. A 45-member committee known as the "Small Body" has been meeting, unable so far to launch the drafting process.
Pedersen said he told the council that when the Constitutional Committee meets again will depend on consultations he plans to have with the Syrian government, opposition and civil society, and with the two co-chairs of the discussion, "both on procedural questions, work plan, and hopefully, of course, also on substantive issues."