UN envoy Brahimi says Syria mission 'nearly impossible'


The new international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, tells Lyse Doucet why he is "scared" of his role

The new UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has given a deeply pessimistic view of the task ahead of him, as he takes up his new post.

Speaking to the BBC, the veteran Algerian diplomat described his mission as "nearly impossible".

Mr Brahimi was appointed after his predecessor, Kofi Annan, resigned, saying he no longer saw a way to fulfil his mission after his peace plan failed to achieve a meaningful ceasefire.

Fighting in Syria has been escalating.

In the latest - still unconfirmed - incident, opposition activists say a warplane killed as many as 18 people in a single strike in Aleppo province.


Lakhdar Brahimi has embarked on one of the world's toughest jobs.

But as one of the UN's most experienced troubleshooters, he may offer the skills needed in a conflict where both sides seem to believe they have no choice but to fight to the end.

Mr Brahimi often deployed a "no victor, no vanquished" power-sharing approach in previous mediations, including the 1989 agreement that ended Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

UN sources who have worked closely with Mr Brahimi over many years say he will be more involved in the minutiae of the process, engaging personally with all the key players, and drawing on his own extensive experience and contacts in the region and beyond, not to mention his understanding of Arab politics and language.

He plans to base his office in Damascus if possible, or in Cairo, and to spend as much time as possible in the region.

But for the time being, there is little optimism anywhere that much can be done. Even Mr Brahimi sees his job as keeping expectations low.

Activists say 20,000 people have died since the uprising against the Syrian government began last March.

On Sunday, the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 5,000 people were killed in August alone.

The conflict has increasingly come to resemble a full-scale civil war, forcing an estimated one million Syrians from their homes.

Last month, the United Nations wound up the observer mission that had been tasked with monitoring the ceasefire in Syria under the six-point peace plan negotiated by Mr Annan.

"I'm coming into this job with my eyes open, and no illusions," Mr Brahimi told the BBC's Lyse Doucet in an interview in New York.

"I know how difficult it is - how nearly impossible. I can't say impossible - [it is] nearly impossible.

Our correspondent says that, with few people believing that Mr Brahimi can do much, it seems he sees his job as keeping expectations low.

Mr Brahimi is expected to visit Syria and meet President Bashar al-Assad on 8 September.

The spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, Jihad Makdissi, said Syria would "give Brahimi all that he needs to make his mission a success for the interest of the country".


A former Algerian foreign minister, Mr Brahimi has also held a series of key UN appointments, including that of UN envoy to Afghanistan and mediator of the peace deal that ended the Lebanese civil war.

Analysts say he has a formidable reputation at the UN and his appointment has been widely welcomed.

But Mr Brahimi admitted to some trepidation about his new mission, saying he could understand those frustrated with the lack of international action in Syria.

"I'm scared of the weight of responsibility. People are already saying: 'People are dying and what are you doing?'

"And we are not doing much. That in itself is a terrible weight."

Mr Brahimi said he had so far failed to see "any cracks" in the "brick wall" that had defeated Mr Annan - an "intransigent" Syrian government, escalating rebel violence and a paralysed UN Security Council, where China and Russia have vetoed several resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Damascus.

Syrians at the Za'atri refugee camp in Jordan on 30 August 2012 A growing number of Syrians have fled abroad to escape the conflict

He said he would keep Mr Annan's six-point peace plan - now seen by many as irrelevant - in his "tool box" for possible adaptation, but admitted he "had ideas, but no plan yet", apart from talking to as many people as possible.

Addressing the Syrian government, he said the need for political change in Syria was "fundamental and urgent", but - as he has previously - refused to be drawn on whether President Assad should step down, as the opposition and several Western leaders are demanding.

"Change cannot be cosmetic," he said. "There will be a new order, but I do not know who will be the people in the order. That's for Syrians to decide."

He also sought to keep a distance between himself and the rebels, who have criticised him for his cautious stance.

"Please remember I am not joining your movement," he said. "I am working for two international organisations, the United Nations and the Arab League, and I do not speak the same language as you."

New fighting
Syria map

Mr Brahimi's comments to the BBC came after another day of violence inside Syria on Sunday.

In Damascus, an explosion hit a district where major military and security compounds are located, reports say.

State TV described the blast - involving two bombs - as "terrorism" and said four people had been lightly injured.

Activists said more than 100 people were killed on Sunday, at least 25 of them in the village of al-Fan near Hama, when it was stormed by government forces.

Many of the 25, all men, were killed by army shelling, activist groups said, but they named at least nine who they said had been summarily executed in their homes by government forces or militia.

State television said security forces had attacked what it called an armed terrorist group in the area, killing all of them.

Rebels and government forces have been involved in a fierce battle for Damascus since July.

The building affected was a base for officers guarding the joint chiefs of staff offices nearby but was empty at the time, officials said.

Bomb attacks in Damascus and the largest city, Aleppo, have become increasingly frequent in recent months, with the authorities often blaming them on "armed terrorist gangs".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    42. If your idea of a safe place is a country ruled by a dictator whose idea of dealing with dissent is to shell his own cities with artillery, I think (if it ever came to a choice of one or the other) I'd rather take my chances with the US Patriot Act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The problem the West has intervening in this conflict is we struggle to comprehend the values and fanaticism of the combatants. Suicide bombing, execution of family members, all abhorrent to a British soldier. You cannot negotiate peace with people whose views are so extreme. Civilians are suffering, but if we stay out it may end quicker, AND THEN we offer aid to rebuild.We must stay out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Or murdering state employees as they travel to work in the morning. Teachers, doctors, civil servants... You will find video of the latter being thrown from the rooftops of besieged Government offices as rebel supporters wail Allahu Akbar.
    I wouldn't waste your breath on trying to educate the hysterical rebel supporters on this thread.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Assad is a dictator, but has kept a lid on. sectarian tensions. Syria as -was- a safe place.

    The west is arming the same jihadis that for 11yrs were an excuse to impose a surveillance/police state. Look to the USA and you will see now the 'terrorists' are portrayed as patriots, returning army veterans, and anyone who criticises the government. How long before we get that here too? It's scarey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The problems in this region will only ever be solved when ALL dictatoral rulers are removed and an all pervading dysfunctional religion stops its fanatics from carrying out barbarous acts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    No task is ever impossible for a man of rich ideologies.Brahimi should instead come up with another powerful ideologies and approaches to win the existing bad ideologies of fighting and killing in Syria.As a matter of simple fact his feelings shouldn't scare him as it did with his predecessor Annan.Two minds can make great deal

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Near impossible task. If he get anywhere or needs a break sorting Syria, he can give Palastine a go too. Regarding a talks mediator. There are few countries with a clean enough pair of hands to be trusted by both sides with the job. Those that might be have far more sense than to get their hands dirty.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    No oil = no interest.

    Unlucky Syria

  • Comment number 36.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    30. There's no way the Assad government would agree to US-hosted talks. Why should the rebels be expected to agree to Russian-hosted talks?

    If Assad wants to propose even-handed talks, great. If he'll only agree to talks that are stacked in his favour and the rebels refuse, that is his fault, not the rebels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    In the 1980's the USA trained and supplied the Mujaheddin to fight the Soviets. Later they became the core of the Taliban, Bin Laden etc. Now we are funding the rebels in Syria, will lessons never be learnt. If a Fundamentalist Government ends up in power that close to Israel how long before another war breaks out. Assad is a despot, but who will replace him, look at Egypt, MB not good for women

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    "Veto out of the UN. It's not democratic."

    What, you mean the two countries which between them represent 80% of the population represented by the security council vetoing the empirism being promoted by the USA is democratic? There was good reason in the permanent members having a veto - to prevent any military actions without UNANIMOUS agreement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Regardless of the whole Syrian situation, is it not deeply unprofessional and negative to accept a job offer and then the day you start, spend the whole time whingeing and going around say how impossible it is?

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    22.Chris Neville-Smith
    ‘I don't blame the opposition for refusing Russian-hosted talks.’
    If they won’t come to the table even against the toughest odds, there can never be peace.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I agree with the other posters who said we need to get the power of Veto out of the UN. It's not democratic. That's the problem - we have two undemocratic countries using an undemocratic mechanism to prevent a democratic process from taking place. Without this, we might have been able to help offer humanitarian relief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Assad is guilty of targeting civilians, the rebels have used POW's as unwitting suicide bombers and executed POW's. Both sides are committing atrocities. Yet the UK government has gave funding to the rebels, but slate Russia/China for supporting Assad. We should either move in using force in a coalition or stay out of it. The middle ground is causing the death of civilians to be prolonged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Once again the UN is tootless, because there are always members ready to restrict what it does in case in hurts their own interest.
    It is worth remembering that the UN was created to prevent the attorciaites of WW2 being repeated. Whilst all the members agree with the original goal they are only too ready to water down a proposal when it hurts their interest. Especially USA, China & Russia


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