The foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed Tuesday to facilitate convening the first session of a committee to draft a new Syrian constitution early next year, saying they hoped it will lead to the launch of a “viable and lasting” peace process.

In a joint statement read out by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, they said the work of the committee should be governed by a “sense of compromise and constructive engagement.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, center, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, shakes hands after a joint statement following the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, center, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, shakes hands after a joint statement following the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

But U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said “there is an extra mile to go in the marathon effort” to ensure a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee. He refused to elaborate in his comments to reporters in Geneva following the meeting.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures to the media after the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures to the media after the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

De Mistura, who is stepping down on Dec. 31, is scheduled to brief the Security Council on Thursday.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)

The 150-member committee, which has been a year in the making, is intended to represent the government, the opposition and civil society and is seen by the U.N. and U.S. as key to holding free elections and ending the seven-year civil war that has killed more than 450,000 people.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)

The U.N. Syria envoy was authorized to put together such a committee at a Russian-hosted peace conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Jan. 30 but its formation has been hindered by disagreements and the U.N. has accused the Syrian government of blocking efforts to draft a new constitution.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)

At issue is the 50-member delegation representing civil society, experts, independents, tribal leaders and women which the government has been objecting to. There is already agreement on the 50-member delegation from the government and the 50-member delegation from the opposition.

“Slowly, we are reaching a conclusion,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, suggesting there were still disagreements over which civil society groups would participate.

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attends a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Denis Balibouse/pool photo via AP)

“We have reached an important step in our work toward the Syrian constitutional committee,” he told reporters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, arrives to take part in consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, arrives to take part in consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

The Damascus government has previously told the U.N. envoy the constitution is a “sovereign” matter and that Damascus will not allow any foreign meddling in it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives to take part in consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives to take part in consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

The opposition has called for a new constitution that would allow for a political transition away from the Assad family’s decades of rule. But after a string of major victories, the government shows little interest in making any concessions and has said it will only accept amendments to the current constitution.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to take part in consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to take part in consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

On Monday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that it’s premature to talk about the start of the constitutional committee’s work “due to the attempt of some western countries to intervene in its work.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, center, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, leave the room  after a joint statement following the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, center, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, leave the room after a joint statement following the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

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Source: The Associated Press