Putin says Syrian constitutional committee near completion

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow on December 20, 2018. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

The establishment of the Syrian constitutional committee is reaching the final phase and the actual political settlement in the country could start in 2019, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said on Thursday.

He said at an annual news conference that the list of participants in the committee had been agreed on by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and presented to the UN.

Nevertheless, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, reported on Wednesday that the UN “took a wait-and-see position at the instigation of our partners — Germany, France and the U.S.,” the president said.

“But in any case, this work is, and I want to believe it, at a final stage. And I hope that if not before the end of this year, then at the beginning of 2019.

“The list will be agreed upon and a new stage of the settlement, a political one, will begin,” he said.

The constitutional committee dedicated to promoting a constitutional reform in Syria was created at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in January in the Russian city of Sochi.

Other countries including Russia, Turkey and Iran have since been making efforts to create conditions to facilitate the beginning of the committee’s work.

Meanwhile, Putin cheered the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops from Syria, but cast doubt on its actual implementation.

“The U.S. has been present in Afghanistan for some 17 years already. And nearly every year it kept talking about the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but they are still there,” he said.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that it has started returning U.S. troops home from Syria after claiming a victory in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) without revealing any detailed timetable.

Putin said he agreed with Trump that significant success has been achieved in the fight against terrorism and the IS in Syria.

But he warned that terrorist groups moving to neighbouring regions and other countries including ones where they came from still posed a danger.

“This represents a great danger for everyone, including Russia, the U.S., Europe and Asian countries, including Central Asian countries,” Putin said.

He said that the decision to withdraw U.S. troops was “correct,” taking into account that they were present in Syria without the UN Security Council’s blessing and without an invitation from the legitimate Syrian government.

Russia was largely satisfied with the “sufficiently constructive dialogue” established between the Russian military and the U.S. one, special services and diplomats in solving the acute problems presented by combating terrorism in Syria, Putin added.

Similarly, Putin said on Thursday that he was ready to meet with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump and discuss bilateral relations and multiple issues on the international agenda.

“I don’t know if there is going to be a meeting between us.

“I have said many times that we are ready, and we believe that there are issues we must discuss together,” Putin said at his annual news conference.

He said the two sides need to discuss the bilateral relations which both Moscow and Washington are interested in, as well as issues regarding the Korean Peninsula, Afghanistan, global security, arms control and many others in the world.

“I hope that something is going to be corrected, as in fact we have reached the bottom of our relations.

“We should understand that there is a necessity to go up from this bottom, take a breath of fresh air and to think with a clear head on how to live further,” Putin said.

In November, following the cancellation of a meeting between the leaders in Paris, Trump called off another previously scheduled meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Trump’s calling off the meeting was denounced by Moscow as a result of U.S. internal politics.

Putin also expressed his concern over the influence brought by a change of power in U.S. Congress on the prospects of direct dialogue between the leaders.

“We can predict new attacks on the incumbent president with nearly 100 per cent of certainty. I don’t know if he will be able to start a direct dialogue with Russia in these conditions,” Putin said.

On Nov. 6, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, shifting the power balance from a Congress that was solely controlled by the Republican Party to one controlled by both parties.

Experts predict that the Democrats will intensify scrutiny of Trump’s relations with Russia, which could put the U.S. president in a more difficult position to adjust policies toward the country.

“Whatever happens, we have to build up bilateral relations and we are ready for it. We will start doing it as soon as the opposite part is ready,” Putin said.

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