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Russia Says May Host Talks To Reform Syria's Constitution Next Month

Russian negotiator on Syria Aleksandr Lavrentyev (file photo)
Russian negotiator on Syria Aleksandr Lavrentyev (file photo)

Russia's chief envoy for Syria says Moscow may host talks between Syrian groups next month with the goal of working on a new constitution for the war-battered country.

"This matter is still being discussed," Aleksandr Lavrentyev told reporters after the first day of Syrian peace negotiations that reconvened in Astana, Kazakhstan, on October 30.

Russia has been the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a six-year civil war that has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Lavrentyev said Assad would be willing to participate in the proposed talks with other Syrians, which he said would include groups both for and against the government.

Assad "has confirmed his readiness for...the preparation of a new constitution and the holding of new parliamentary and presidential elections on this basis," Lavrentyev said, adding that Assad's acceptance of such a constitutional reform process is "a very important announcement."

Lavrentyev said the United Nations envoy for Syria, Steffan de Mistura, had also supported the idea of holding a Congress of National Dialogue "in principle."

"Although he had some reservations, he supported this initiative of Russia," Lavrentyev said. De Mistura's office declined to comment.

Lavrentyev said that as envisioned by Russia, the congress would focus on seeking "compromise solutions towards the political settlement" of the Syrian conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin first mentioned the possibility of such a congress earlier this month. On October 30, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported it might be held in Sochi in mid-November.

Lavrentyev said another possible location for the talks is Russia's Hmeimim military base in Syria.

The Astana talks, which resumed for a seventh round on October 30, are sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey and have focused mainly on establishing cease-fires and other battlefield matters.

UN envoy de Mistura has announced his intention to reconvene broader Syrian peace negotiations in Geneva on November 28.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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