Syria Opposition Rejects Russian Draft of New Constitution

  • Russia handed opposition draft constitution at Astana talks
  • Only Syrians can decide political future, opposition says

Chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush, center, of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group attends the first session of Syria peace talks at Astana's Rixos President Hotel on Jan. 23.

Photographer: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Syria’s opposition rejected a proposal from Russia on a new constitution for the conflict-torn country, warning the Kremlin against repeating the mistake made by the Bush administration after the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Russia presented the document in Arabic during a meeting with the chief rebel negotiator, Mohammed Alloush, at peace talks this week in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the blueprint written by Russian experts was based on ideas from the Syrian government, opposition and regional powers.

The draft proposes that the Syrian president be elected for seven years without the right to seek re-election, Interfax reported, citing a person familiar with the document it didn’t identify. It also suggests that the country will have a parliament with two chambers and rejects Islamic sharia as the basis for law, the newswire said.

“We told them that the Syrians are the ones who are entitled to write the constitution,” Yahya al-Aridi, a member of the opposition delegation to the Astana negotiations, said by phone on Wednesday. “The experience of Paul Bremer in Iraq is quite clear -- when a constitution is written by another country, politically it won’t work.” He was referring to the U.S. official who governed Iraq under occupation from 2003-2004. He declined to comment on the contents of the Russian proposal.

Bolstering Cease-Fire

The Russian-led talks in Astana ended Tuesday after two days with an agreement to bolster a cease-fire even as apparent tensions with Iran, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, threaten to hold up efforts to end the six-year civil war. Russia, Turkey and Iran decided to set up a joint military center to oversee the implementation of the truce.

“We appreciate that they have moved to a peace track and confirmed to them that we are cooperative in that regard, as long as they are serious,” Aridi said of Russia. “It’s their job as guarantors to take care of other parties who are not helping them achieve something at a political level.”

The Kremlin envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, who led his country’s delegation to the talks in Kazakhstan, said Tuesday that Russia had presented the rebels with the draft text of the constitution “to help speed up this process and give it some more impetus.”

“In no way do we want to interfere in the drafting and adopting of the basic law of the constitution of the country,” he said. “We believe that the Syrian people must lead this process.”

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