GENEVA (Dispatches) – The UN envoy for Syria hosted key diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to discuss work toward rewriting the country's constitution, amid a planned military offensive on terrorist-held Idlib province.
The talks led by Staffan de Mistura started and ended with little or no comment to reporters at the UN offices in Geneva. The northern province is the last remaining terroirst stronghold in Syria after 7½ years of war and now home to allegedly some 3 million civilians.
Iran and Russia have backed a military campaign on Idlib involving Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, despite Turkey's pleas for a ceasefire.
Before Tuesday's meeting, Hussein Jaberi Ansari, a special envoy for Iran's foreign minister, said a "good result" could emerge. Asked whether Iran shared the concerns about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, Jaberi Ansari replied: "We are worried too. We are trying to avoid this."
De Mistura met informally with members of the three delegations on Monday.
The talks were set to focus on creating a constitutional committee under Syria's Russian- and Iranian-backed government. Russia, Turkey and Iran have been working together as "guarantors" for a series of talks around ending Syria's war. Turkey has taken in 3.5 million refugees from its neighbor.
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned the Syrian government against using chemical weapons in the impending battle for Idlib Province.
If chemical weapons are used, National Security Adviser John Bolton promised the U.S. would deliver a counterattack that’s more severe than the two previous assaults authorized by Trump.
"We’ve tried to convey the message in recent days that if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger,” Bolton said in a speech on Monday in Washington. "I can say we’ve been in consultations with the British and the French who have joined us in the second strike and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response.”
Assad has repeatedly denied the use of chemical weapons. The Russian and Syrian governments say that the terrorists — not Syria — plan to launch a chemical weapons attack.
Russia said Tuesday that terrorists had begun working on film footage that would be presented to the world as the aftermath of an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian army.
The Russian defense ministry, citing Idlib residents, said film crews from several Middle Eastern TV channels -- as well as "a regional branch of a leading U.S. news channel" -- had arrived for the shoot in the city of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib.
"By the end of the day", all the footage should be handed over to the TV channels which would release it through social media, the defense ministry said.
According to the "scenario," White Helmets activists will be "helping residents of Jisr ash-Shugour" after the alleged use of barrel bombs by the Syrian army, it said.
Two vessels containing chlorine had already been brought to the area from Kherbet al-Jawz, the ministry added.