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 145.

    Stay out of their internal affairs, let them develop by themselve's. Who intervened in the English civil war or the American? And democracy means different things around the globe, Western democracy is not the same as Eastern! Never the twain shall meet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Many more lives will be lost whilst one half of the planet tries to force its ideals, religion & politics on the other & while greedy nations fight over resources. The US is no less fundamentalist in its religious views than arab nations & no polticial system is foolproof, particularly if those in power are the fools. You should all keep your religious views to yourselves & your greed in check

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Call in Hugo Chaves, El President, he will solve all problems, by trowing money at it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    The west should stay out of this they interfered in Afghanstan in the early 80's and look what happened they backed a bunch of backward looking religious loons who would take any country back to medievil times any secular dictator is better than religious zealots who have no place in the modern world and need to be isolated and marginalised.

  • Comment number 141.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    For all it's alleged faults, the Assad regime was a fairly secular one that respected religious freedom. Contrast this with Anglo-American ally, Pakistan, where a mentally disabled Christian child accused of blasphemy not only has to fear being killed by Muslim fanatics, but the justice system as well. This may change, but right now I hope Assad wins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Yep... the louder the innocent civilians scream... more excited the state controlled propaganda machine and oh so dedicated psychopathic get! Isn't a bloody war just the best attraction and wonderful fom of entertainment for the very sick minded!

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    We should keep all these countries at arms length and let them fight amongst themselves. Maybe in a few hundred years they will finally grow up and adopt civilised values such as gender equality and human rights.

  • Comment number 137.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.


    If it acts it becomes the bully, if not it is the "timorous "West". So lets agree that that is a pointless thing to debate.

    "nothing has changed these past 70 odd years"

    Is that good or bad, things could have been worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    #128. Alasdair Campbell
    "The enthusiasm of some Western nations to attempt to impose their style of 'democracy' on states, is puzzling.

    Only puzzling if statements of those Western nations are taken at face value. Corruption in the elite is everywhere, whether in a totalitarian system, a "democracy", or even the Beeb.
    Sorry, not allowed to post for another 10 mins, and I'll have left for work ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    We (the world) are as passive with the killings/rapes/tortures of innocent victims & refugee camps as we were about Hitlers "Gas Chambers" so nothing has changed these past 70 odd years. Russia/China are the new bullies of the world, and Dictators the world over are very happy about that, as this gives them cover to do likewise as Assad. The world will pay for this, especially the timorous "West"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    126. spoton
    As expected, some are more equal than others. 10 mins for me, 10 seconds for more palatable posters.
    The ten minute rule was brought in to stop people from hogging the debate. Problem is some people think they are the 1%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    129. "You mean something that might be described as a "constitution" that constrains what any government can do irrespective of what it's democratic mandate is?"

    Confused. Constitutions can be amended with sufficient public support, as has happened in France, Germany, Ireland and the United States for a start. Which country's constitution do you have in mind?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    At last someone from the UN who realises that they are largely ignored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Trout Mask Replica

    No gov of any kind can govern without the agreement of its population. The power to govern is lost when sufficient population are willing to do what is required to dipose the gov.
    Ultimately, all moral & power resides with the population (by action or inaction) in permitting the gov to act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    127. Chris Neville-Smith

    You mean something that might be described as a "constitution" that constrains what any government can do irrespective of what it's democratic mandate is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Sometimes the best form of conflict resolution is to let the conflict play itself out, as inevitably it will. The enthusiasm of some 'Western' nations to become involved in an attempt to impose their style of 'democracy' on states to whom such a system is alien, is puzzling. Certainly, it is causing nothing but trouble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

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

    How about, in comment 103 (which Manya agreed with) the caveat "and retain the right to free speech, right to protest and so forth"? One might sensibly assume that not removing voting rights from 49% is included in "and so forth".

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    As expected, some are more equal than others. 10 mins for me, 10 seconds for more palatable posters.

    - Well done Mayna and Trout Mask Replica, you obviously know the right Auntie at the Beeb ;)

    Any chance of passing on who got you the more than 1 post every 10 mins profile ??????

    LOL What a shameless "neutral" broadcaster

    5,4,3,2,1 !!!


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