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 125.

    123.Trout Mask Replica
    "We do so according to the law. Arbitrarily criminalising people who dissent or are from minority groups is not acceptable in a democracy."

    who makes the law? Gov. (power from gov to the legal bodies)
    who gives the Gov power to do this? the people.

    if people disagree with the govs actions then they have the power to remove the gov. 51/49% thats democracy

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    122.Chris Neville-Smith

    You just accepted then that there are constraints on what governments with a mandate can do then.

    Sure constitutions can be changed. Amendments usually require super-majorities and pass other safeguards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    "120. Mayna
    that is the power of the vote to remove those that misuse power"

    Bit late if a 51% majority removes the vote from the 49%. In your world what is to stop an elected government doing that?

    "we imprison 'criminals" against their right to freedom"

    We do so according to the law. Arbitrarily criminalising people who dissent or are from minority groups is not acceptable in a democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    115. No, that wouldn't be democratic because arbitrarily detaining and exscuting minorities would be impinging of their right to vote out the government.

    117. I think you'll find that almost all countries have means of changing their constitutions if there's enough of a democratic mandate to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Either posting rules have changed, from no more than one post every 10 mins, or some are more equal than others in our little BBC moderator governed HYS democracy.. Lets try another post within those 10 mins ...(Don't hold your breath)

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    117.Trout Mask Replica
    "There have to be constraints"

    that is the power of the vote to remove those that misuse power.

    " in particular the basic freedoms of individuals and minorities"

    we imprison 'criminals" against their right to freedom. What is right & what is wrong in a society is a judgement by the majority of the population. Most judge theft anti social so we have prisons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    that is what democracy means"

    I don't believe that any constitutional scholar or lawyer would accept that a democratic mandate gives any government the authority to behave without constraint. That's why executive, legislative and judicial branches of government must be separate in a democracy and all must act according to the constitution and the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.


    Gr8 choice, he speaks the same spiritual code of both sides who are fanatical (to a man), a christian westerner would not understand the importance of Islam to the people in the middle east, and be considered Imperialist.

    I wish him luck and hope he can cut out the cancer at the top of the current regime and make the world a safer place.

    Word to the wise 'softly softly catch the mouse...'

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    But as a democratic gov need not break the law, it need only change the law to suit itself"

    Only if doing so does not breach the constitution and all democratic constitutions (apart from the UK's) restrict what can be changed, in particular the basic freedoms of individuals and minorities, freedom of the press, independence of judiciaries etc. There have to be constraints.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    115.Trout Mask Replica
    "if a governmnet was elected with a popular mandate"

    that is what democracy means. If the mandate is good or bad is a point of view, a democracy gov is meant to represent the majority view - whatever that is. The morality, right/wrong falls to the population in requesting the mandate. If they are opposed then they should elect those that would overturn it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    "Chris Neville-Smith
    no, that is not democratic at all"

    So, if a governmnet was elected with a popular mandate to detain unpopular minorities without trial and to execute them without trial, it would be undemocratic to prevent said government from enacting the relevant legislation to do so? I think you need a more sophisticated view of democracy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Democracy may be the intended outcome that is portrayed to western viewers of the saga, but along the way there will be anarchy, theocracy and oligarchy.

    Unfortunately anarchy and oligarchy are the much preferred options of external financiers of the revolution, and theocrats will play on a looted populace. Democracy is a distant dream in the middle east.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    There are similarly 'conveniently vague' opt-outs in the EU human rights legislation."

    There's no such thing as "EU human rights legislation". There's the ECHR which predates (1950) and is broader (47 states) than the EEC/EU. EU members must be ECHR signatories. The Lisbon Treaty subjects the EU itself to the constraints of the ECHR but there is no separate EU Human Rights protocols.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Western powers should start investing in alternatives to oil. When we no longer rely on oil, then we have no reason to support/interfere in the Middle East. Without oil revenue, these countries can then happily go back to the Stone Age

    Cast your mind back to the time of the Crusades - was the west fighting in the middle east for oil? It is not always about oil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    108. "Upholding the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy:"

    If by "rule of law", you mean laws that cannot be changed irrespective of how strongly the people vote for a government and parliament who want to change it, no, that is not democratic at all.

  • Comment number 110.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    108.Trout Mask Replica
    "Upholding the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy"

    But as a democratic gov need not break the law, it need only change the law to suit itself. Maintaining democracy & the right to free voting is the control of gov as Chris Neville-Smith states. The crime would be in changing the system to make it harder for oppositions or extend its own term in office.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    "Chris Neville-Smith
    A crucial element of democracy is accepting when a vote doesn't go your way"

    Upholding the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy: that means a government even with an overwhelming majority must uphold the law, the constitution and the rights of individuals and minorities. An elected government that acts arbitrarily and rejects the law is not a democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    103. Chris Neville-Smith

    Well said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    105 Mohammed Begum
    Agreed,can we make it a no-frills carrier,and a one-way ticket!
    And ideally can he be wearing a UN uniform!
    Then he truly would be intervening for peace and earning the costs of the massive overheads that his mission incurs!


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