UN Syria envoy resigns after nearly 3 years of political impasse

McClatchy InteractiveMay 13, 2014 

United Nations Syria Brahimi

Jan. 24, 2014 file photo, U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi listens during a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS — AP

Calling the international community "hopelessly divided" on a political resolution to the bloody civil war in Syria, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon today announced the resignation of special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

"I regret that the parties, and especially the government, have proven so reluctant to take advantage of that opportunity to end the country's profound misery," Ban said. "I renew my appeal to them to show the wisdom and sense of responsibility that could allow a way out of this nightmare."

Brahimi, 80, a veteran Algerian diplomat, served as the joint UN/Arab League envoy to Syria for two years and eight months - much longer than his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who lasted just five months in 2012 before quitting in frustration at the lack of progress toward a negotiated resolution.

Brahimi joined Ban for the announcement at the UN headquarters in New York. He'd expressed doubts about prospects for mediation in the crisis at the very beginning of his tenure as envoy, and left with stern words for the regime, the rebels and both parties' foreign backers in the conflict, which has killed some 150,000 people and created a massive refugee and humanitarian crisis that threatens the stability of the Middle East.

"The question is only this: everybody who has responsibility and an influence in the situation has to remember that the question is how many more dead? How much more destruction is there going to be before Syria becomes again the Syria we have known – the new Syria that will be different from the Syria of the past, but it will be the Syria we have loved and admired for many, many years," Brahimi said, according to a UN transcript.

The United Nations and the Obama administration thanked Brahimi for his service and acknowledged the depths of the challenges his mission faced. However, reporters at the State Department's midday briefing questioned the wisdom of having another special envoy at all, given the political impasse behind the conflict and Syrian President Bashar Assad's bid for another term in a June election that the State Department calls a parody of democracy.

The AP's Matt Lee asked what Brahimi accomplished beyond holding expensive conferences in European cities. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki replied that nobody was happy with the state of Syria, but she defended the role of a special envoy as necessary in the absence of a military solution to the lopsided conflict.

"He played an incredibly important role in a challenging time," Psaki said of Brahimi.

Brahimi's got off to a rocky start as envoy, as evidenced in this account of his first meeting with some Syrian opposition activists. They said Brahimi grew incensed when they showed him a Syrian protester mocking the role as "mission impossible." Brahimi's frustration with the role was clear on several occasions, and rumors of his resignation had swirled for months.

Here's the Guardian on Brahimi's tenure and the search for a replacement:

Brahimi presided over two rounds of peace talks between the Assad government and opposition representatives in Geneva in January and February, but they yielded no results except for a week-long ceasefire in the partially besieged city of Homs.

The decision on Brahimi's replacement rests with Ban, but he is expected to consult security council members as well as Germany and Turkey. The choice is likely to be discussed by John Kerry, William Hague and other western and Arab foreign ministers when they meet for a Friends of Syria meeting in London on Thursday.

Neither Ban nor U.S. officials hinted at a possible successor. Al Jazeera had this tidbit about potential contenders:

Diplomatic sources say that Tunisia's Kamel Morjane, who was the defence and then foreign minister from 2005 until the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprising led to the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was among the leading candidates to replace Brahimi.

Al Jazeera's Diplomatic Editor James Bays said other names floating around included Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister, Javier Solana, former secretary-general of the Council of the European Union, and Sigrid Kaag, a UN diplomat who heads the mission for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.

 

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