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".


More on This Story

Syria conflict


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • Comment number 85.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    sadly I suspect his task is mission impossible. perhaps a useful starting point would be a ceasefire supported by open and free elections. let the syrians decide their own future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    If massive refugee camps were set up in the neighboring states, funded and supplied by the West, and a temporary ceasefire put in place to allow evacuation, would that not be a more ethical use of the funding currently given to the rebels. Allow the two sides to battle it out and afterwards rebuild a lasting peace. Otherwise Syria has nothing but insurgency and death in its future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    "The Bloke
    But the UN clearly has no right to criticise the invasion of Iraq."

    Why? You have no right to criticise the UN's criticism of the invasion of Iraq in that case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Editors' Pick

    let the People of Syria decide who should govern their country through open and free elections.

    In 1933 the people of Germany brought to power the NSDAP or Nazi part in open and free elections. I doubt the Editor will have been educated to the level needed to comprehend that fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    74.Shaunie Babes
    "Democracy is just a means of the Islamists gaining power and influence they would never otherwise have."

    Isn't that what democracy is about, people getting a say, or is it just those who share our view that are allowed a voice (power)? Hardly a democracy if no voice of disagreement or alternative path/view can be heard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    73. The west is supplying non-military equipment. Some of it may nonetheless be used to assist the rebels militarily. That is still nothing compared to the arms deals from Russia to Assad. Don't see how you can blame the West but gloss over Russia.

    71. No, the Syrian government agreed to one-sided talks that they knew the rebels would never agree to. That's no different to refusing to talk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    The new UN envoy to Syria Mr Brahimi sounds pessimistic in his challenging assignment and rightly so. Even the ex-envoy Mr Kofi Annan was at loggerheads when his six-point peace deal failed.
    The UN has failed and should be replaced by a supreme organisation that commands respect. But that is another story. The civil war in Syria will not recede unless Russia or China relent from their hard stand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Here some advice Mr Envoy. Tell the Russians, Chinese, American, British et al to back off. Tell the warring factions to put there weapons down and let the People of Syria decide who should govern their country through open and free elections.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I supect kofi Annan is a good man with good intentions but he has been indirectly responsible for many deaths due to his dithering (which I assume he saw as diplomacy).

    I wish the new incumbent well but if the task us truly impossible, then let's hope he doesn't just sit on the fence and wring his hands like the last one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    In a professional army, there is discipline and a chain of command, British Soldiers have been punished for offences in Iraq and Afgan. A soldier protects civilians and follows the Geneva Convention at all times. SO WHY has the UK government been supplying funding to an armed mob who are committing atrocities. Imagine the outcry if Ireland had openly funded the IRA, double standards from the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    The Middle-East needs strong dictators in order to keep Islam under control. Democracy is just a means of the Islamists gaining power and influence they would never otherwise have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.


    Of course 'this killing is going on in Syria' is bad.

    You should therefore question why the west are propogating it by supplying arms and support to the jihadi's which are, according to the original Free Syrian Movement, neither Syrian, nor welcome.

    I, for one, don't support either side but believe, other than helping with refugee camps outside the borders, should not be involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Brahimi has often been outspoken, OPPOSING FOREIGN INTERVENTION IN SEVERAL CONFLICTS & often clashing with the US over its strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    Though I will listen to full interview with Brahimi on the BBC World Service or BBC World News, I suspect that Mr Brahimi's very carefully-selected words have been so very slightly altered towards interventionists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    57.Chris Neville-Smith
    ‘after the deaths of 20,000 Syrians, it's OK for the Syrian government to make no effort for peace?’
    But they have. They agreed to talks.
    And you also seem to think that the killings were all one sided. They aren’t.
    There are no innocents in war and both sides have a lot of blood on their hands.
    And if they won’t sit down to talks it’s only going to get worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    65.Muppet Master

    sorry Muppet Master, I only noticed my mistake after hitting the send button :(
    yes post 62 was intended for 57.Chris Neville-Smith

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    59.Controlled Pair

    Our put it another way the U.K. suddenly is controlled by the Christian Brother hood a kind of cross between the Knights Hospitlars & the Knights Templers.
    All T.V. presenters must then where Religious garb like white smocks with red crosses emblazoned upon them ... Would the BBC describe this as a '' Break-Through '' ??
    BBC are. Shocking !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    63. I quite frankly couldn't care less who has the moral high ground. All I'm interested in is whether it's right or wrong that all this killing is going on in Syria.

    Once you start excusing or downplaying the slaughter in Syria on the grounds that the US invaded Iraq, it's makes a mockery of your claim that two wrongs don't make a right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    For years we heard nothing about Syria, Iraq or Libya - they seemed stable with their propped up military dictators. Unpleasant, but useful!
    With their welcome out stayed, the western agenda has now found cause and colluded actively in the ruination of Iraq,Libya and now seeks to do the same in Syria. So of course Brahimi is in an impossible position - his pay master's hands are already dirty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Intervention in any country's affair is wrong thing.Look at history.Look at Congo,Ethiopia,Afghanistan,Iran,Iraq and many other countries.People of the country have to know their own enemy.They have to know and weed out wrong people promoting the war in their countries in the name religion practices or parties.


Page 4 of 8


More Middle East stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.