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 65.


    Just guessing, but I think you meant:
    57.Chris Neville-Smith - not 56.Muppet Master

    Although your response seems valid ;o)

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    How ironic that the Arab league, a collection of despots and criminals, should be lecturing another country on human rights and democracy.

    In Saudi Arabia women have virtually no rights and people are routinely mutilated for minor offences.

    >>> How Ironic too that the West considers intervention in Syria while backing Saudi Arabia with sales of weapons and security kit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @57.Chris Neville-Smith

    "It's all about the scale of the atrocities"

    For a start, two wrongs don't make a right. We're SUPPOSED to be the good guys. 20,000 bad? >1m civilian deaths during the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, or >20m deaths through democide from western governments over the last century. The west does not have the moral high ground, it's time to stop pretending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    56.Muppet Master
    "It's all about the scale of the atrocities. .... Unless it's anywhere near the 20,000 people killed in Syria, there's absolutely no comparison as to which ones worse."

    I would disagree with "absolutely no comparison", even if it is done only once then that party cant take the moral high ground or it becomes a debate over what an acceptable number is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    #10 "There is no middle ground in Syria. There is a tyrant, who with his family has lived lavishly at the expense of some 20 million trapped human beings -- and there are the people struggling bravely to overthrow him."

    Where do you get your news? These heroes of yours are murdering people simply because they have relatives in the Syrian army.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Firstly, Mr Brahimi did not say the mission was impossible. He said "I suppose it is; Kofi says so." KOFI SAYS SO, but having failed what else would Kofi say?
    There's wall in front of which Mr. Brahimi sees himself standing. Mr Brahimi is still examing that wall to find the cracks that other people say exist. Mr. Brahimi is scared of the "weight of the responsibility" - not his lack of ability.

  • Comment number 59.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    52.Nemesis of Socialism is Nigh
    My theory, the US is hatching a big war plan and is the black hand behind. If the region is stable, then it has no chance to sell weapons and no excuse to step in. Now let extremist to get control first, then democracy has a cause to preveal on those poor people. I recon 3rd WW is nor far away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    46. So, to get this straight: after the deaths of 20,000 Syrians, it's OK for the Syrian government to make no effort for peace?

    53. It's all about the scale of the atrocities. How many people do you think have been "disappeared" by the US authorities. Unless it's anywhere near the 20,000 people killed in Syria, there's absolutely no comparison as to which ones worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I'm all for resolving this (or any) conflict with the minimum of bloodshed. But we - the UK & US - have been meddling in the Middle East so much for so long, perhaps we should stay out of it. It only causes resentment

    It's a Mid East problem; Let the Arab League and UN sort it out without
    getting ourselves involved again

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The BBC's heartfelt story about the Syrian Kurds showed some rather poor timing - the day after that propaganda was aired, those lovely Kurds killed about 30 people in Turkey. I wish our media & politicians would stop with this binary good/evil idea, both sides are in the wrong, and as such we should remain neutral.
    I wonder if Russia and Syria refer to the BBC as "British state television"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    The UN is fast becoming as irrelevant as The League Of Nations once was, unless all nations have an equal say it cannot work. UK,USA,France,Russia and China Can veto actions, Why should the rest of the world listen to what are basically western Developed nations, not one of whom is a "Muslim" state. It must be democratic with majority decisions the order of the day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.


    How is the NDAA, which gives the US president extra-judicial powers to detain, imprison, and even execute US citizens without any due process, any different to Assad (or Putin, or the Chinese executive) disappearing inconvenient people? The only difference is your PERCEPTION of the country/person doing it. You wear rose-tinted spectacles. We might end up being GLAD of the Russianese veto.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    From Pakistan to Saudi to Egypt and Syria we are seeing a concerted effort to implement the grand plan of Islam.
    The BBC & our Pro Islam politicians feed a gossamer thin pack of lies to the gullible.
    We are told its all about freedom ! but will we see freedom in these country's or religious repression ?
    Iraq Syria Egypt where on the whole pluralistic countries with the '' tyrants''

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

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

    Exactly, what is he doing? Been in the job for a couple of weeks and all he can do is moan about how hard the job is.

    RESIGN NOW Brahimi and let someone competent and qualified do the job. They might even save some lives!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    #20 "Why don't our apologies of leaders face the simple facts that everyone else can see clearly. Islam is a vile & stupid religion that turns Moslems against everyone & even against each other. Not even the despicable Nazis trained their very own children to be suicide bombers."

    Ignorant hate speech. Mr Breivik would be proud of you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

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

    Well that's a surprise. I could have told him that before he took the job on. Maybe Brahmi has had his head in the sand for the last 18 months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    On the US's agenda, it is very clear to get rid of Assad. Nothing to do with good for Syrian people. The real goal behind this is to squeeze Russia and China's influence and damage their economic interests. The rebel is no better than Assad, maybe even worse. Look what happening in Iraq, Afganistan, Libya.

  • Comment number 47.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    35.Chris Neville-Smith
    ‘Why should the rebels be expected to agree to Russian-hosted talks?’
    Because they are the ones that are looking for change, they are the ones that need to be pro-active, they are the ones that need to look like they are making the effort for peace.
    But so far regardless of the war, it’s Assad (the despot) who has agreed to talk, not the rebels.


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