Syrian National Dialogue Congress starts in Sochi

Valery Sharifulin  TASS

Valery Sharifulin TASS

Russian Federation is hosting what it has called a Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday that it hopes will launch negotiations on drafting a new constitution for Syria after nearly seven years of civil war.

The SNC accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers of continuing to rely on military might and showing no willingness to enter into honest negotiations.

Iranian FM's Special Assistant in Political Affairs who is also Iran's senior negotiator in Syria talks participated at the opening ceremony of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress underway in Sochi.

Among the first 175 participants to arrive are representatives of the ruling Baath party, the National Progressive Front political alliance, as well as members of the Syrian domestic opposition, RIA Novosti reports, citing a source.

Russian Federation will ask the United Nations to take the lead in discussions on a new constitution for Syria, said its envoy, Alexander Lavrentiev.

However, the event was boycotted by the leadership of the Syrian opposition, while powers such as the United States, Britain and France stayed away because of what they said was the Syrian government's refusal to properly engage.

"Late last night, there was a kerfuffle down at the airport here - distressed Turkish officials running around trying to persuade a group of Turkish-backed opposition delegates to leave the airport", said Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from Sochi, referring to Monday evening.

Syria's main Kurdish groups has also declined to attend the conference in Sochi saying it holds Russian Federation responsible for the Turkish offensive.

In the congress at Sochi, Turkey is represented by Deputy Foreign Undersecretary Sedat Önal.

He said some members of other opposition factions would attend and that "all strata" of Syrian society would be represented.

After another round of failed peace talks in Vienna last week, the SNC said it would not attend the Sochi congress.

The commission will be chaired by UN's Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura.

Separately, Turkish authorities on Monday said they had detained 311 people for disseminating "terrorist propaganda" through social media posts criticizing Ankara's Afrin offensive, the AP reported.

A participant holds a Syrian flag as he attends the Sochi session.

"We never had the government side and the opposition actually getting involved in a discussion of a new constitution, because they were not in agreement".

Under the motto of "Peace to the People of Syria", the Sochi Congress is expected to take place, despite the absence of Syrian prominent opposition parties.

Vitaly Naumkin, a Russian expert on the Middle East employed by de Mistura as an adviser, told reporters that the problems encountered by organizers had not tarnished the event.

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