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    Over 1,300 people will gather in the Russian resort town of Sochi to discuss the future of Syria at an upcoming congress, a source at Astana talks told Sputnik.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) The agenda at the Syrian Congress of the National Dialogue in Sochi, according to the so-called Concept Paper of the Congress, will be the situation in Syria, including the "preservation of its unity and strengthening of its sovereignty, political reforms, the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, creation of conditions for the return of refugees and IDPs."

    Other important issues slated for discussion are the fight against terrorism, a new constitution for the country, as well as parliamentary and presidential elections.

    The congress aims to push forward the political settlement process in Syria, and bring together a vast number of opposition and pro-government forces, as well as representatives of all ethnic and religious groups.

    Participants of the Syrian Congress of the National Dialogue

    The UN, World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are supposed to participate in the congress as observers. Civil society organizations including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) may also take part, according to the paper.

    READ MORE: Astana Talks: Neutral Mediator May Help Warring Syrian Parties Release Detainees

    Moreover, the Congress intends to invite Muslims (of various branches — Sunnis, Alawites, Shia, Ismailis), Christians, Druse, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmans, Assyrians, Circassians, Armenians and tribal groups (tribes' sheikhs), according to the "Concept Paper," obtained by Sputnik.

    As for political forces, the Congress seeks to convene representatives of the Syrian government, parliament and officially registered political parties. From the opposition side, it wants to bring together internal opposition platforms (Hmeymim platform), external opposition platforms (the High Negotiations Committee, Moscow, Cairo and Astana groups), as well as representatives of the armed opposition on the ground, from de-escalation zones.

    READ MORE: Russian Envoy for Syria Discussed Political Settlement With Assad

    So far, a number of opposition groups, including the Syrian National Coalition, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), and the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front, have spoken out against participating in the Congress, calling it an attempt to circumvent the issue of political transition and the Geneva-led settlement process. However, Russia does not consider the refusal of the HNC as final, and will continue to discuss the issue of their involvement, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier.

    UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was invited to participate in the Congress, but he has not made a clear statement regarding this yet. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, de Mistura and his team are currently reviewing the framework of the proposed initiative, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said at a press briefing on Thursday.

    Syrian Congress Organizers

    Media reports on the possibility of a Congress bringing together various parts of Syrian society first appeared in early October, citing unnamed sources. Russia's Hmeymim airbase in Syria was named as a likely venue. In mid-October, Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned in his speech at the Valdai Discussion Club that the idea of creating such a Congress "exists."

    It was only at Astana-format talks on Syria held earlier this week that head of the Russian delegation and Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev described the idea of the Congress as a Russian initiative, specifying that its name would be the Congress of the National Dialogue and that the most suitable venue would be Sochi. On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry published on its website a list of 33 Syrian opposition groups and organizations to be invited to attend the proposed event.


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    Syrian opposition, congress, constitution, Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee (HNC), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Syria
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