On January 25th, a new round of United Nations-sponsored Syria Peace Talks kicked off in the Austrian capital of Vienna. Although the event has been overshadowed by other regional developments such as Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, it nevertheless represents an important step in reaching a political solution to the conflict that has gone on since 2011.
At present, the representative for the Syrian Government is Bashar al-Jaafari, the country’s permanent representative to the UN. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) of the Syrian Opposition, meanwhile, is led by Nasr al-Hariri. The current shape of the HNC was formulated during the Opposition summit in Riyadh in late 2017 and is made of 36 delegates representing different Opposition factions.
In the lead-up to the talks, the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said that the main agenda will be the creation of a new constitution as part of the transition process. He added that he fully intends to implement the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for a new constitution, UN supervised elections and a transparent and accountable government. Although de Mistura spoke optimistically about the talks in Vienna, other participants, such as the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, were more pessimistic. Le Drian noted that the talks represent the “last hope” for a political solution in Syria.
The pessimism is not altogether unwarranted. The most recent UN-sponsored peace talks were deadlocked and did not produce any outcomes. The Government and Opposition delegations, meanwhile, continue to be at loggerheads over major issues such as the fate and role of President Bashar al-Assad in the transition process. Both sides consider the issue non-negotiable and so far neither side has shown any sign of budging.
The talks in Vienna take place just days ahead of the Russia-sponsored Syrian Nation Congress in the city of Sochi. The Opposition remains undecided whether it will attend the Congress.