Lakhdar Brahimi’s departure as United Nations special envoy in charge of mediating peace talks on the civil war in Syria further dims prospects for a peaceful resolution to the three-year conflict.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday he accepted “with great regret” Brahimi’s resignation, which takes effect May 31. The 80-year-old former Algerian foreign minister battled “almost impossible odds” in the quest for peace in Syria and didn’t receive effective support from the UN Security Council, Ban told reporters in New York. Brahimi said he is very sad to leave Syria “in such a bad state.”
“I naturally accept my share of the blame for all what has not been achieved during the past 19 months,” Brahimi said in farewell remarks prepared for the Security Council.
Brahimi brought together Syria’s government and some of the rebel groups fighting against it for peace talks in Geneva, which ended in February after recording little progress. The envoy has said that President Bashar al-Assad’s likely re-election next month will imperil any prospects of getting the warring parties to negotiate a political transition.
At least 150,000 people have died since the conflict began in March 2011. The UN and aid agencies say the Syrian conflict is the worst humanitarian disaster since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, with 6.5 million people displaced inside Syria and an additional 3 million seeking refuge outside the country.
“We have been stating all the time that there must be a political dialogue, and to both parties -– the Syrian government and opposition forces -– I am very sorry to say that they have failed,” Ban said.
“Except for chemical weapons, and also some progress in humanitarian assistance, we have not been able to make progress, particularly in a political solution,” he said.
The Security Council, the UN’s most powerful decision-making body, has been paralyzed by Russia’s efforts to protect the Assad regime, its longtime Arab ally. Over the past three years, Russia, with China’s backing, has vetoed three resolutions condemning the Assad government and threatening it with sanctions.
The council achieved a rare moment of unity on Syria in September when it authorized an agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia for Assad to avert an American military strike by surrendering his chemical weapons arsenal.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday “it would have changed a lot of things in many ways” if U.S. President Barack Obama hadn’t abandoned his threat to strike Syria for crossing a “red line” by using chemical weapons.
Assad is still “capable of producing chemical weapons and determined to use them,” Fabius said at a press conference in Washington. The top French diplomat said there’s evidence “that a certain amount of chemical weapons were hidden” and that Assad has used chemicals, “in particular chlorine,” in at least 14 attacks since October.
Chlorine gas has many industrial uses, and isn’t listed in the Chemical Weapons Convention, the global treaty on chemical arms destruction. Even so, any proven use of a lethal chemical as a weapon is a violation of international law.
France is pushing the Security Council to adopt a resolution that would refer the Assad government and its supporting militias and armed groups to the International Criminal Court for violations and abuses of international law and human rights during the war.
Negotiations on the French draft began yesterday, and the measure is expected to be put to a vote later this week or early next week, French Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud told reporters.
This effort, too, is unlikely to produce a result, as a Russian veto again is probable. “We don’t think that’s a good idea,” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told reporters yesterday.
Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, a former UN Secretary-General, lasted less than six months, owing to the paralysis on the Security Council. Ban said he “will take some time” to think of a new Syria envoy.
Brahimi believes that an Arab will be best-positioned to make a difference, and he has pushed for former Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane, said one Security Council diplomat. The Assad regime is pushing for former Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana, who has had friendly ties with the Assad regime since the rule of Bashar’s father, said another council diplomat. Both asked not to be named commenting on sensitive deliberations.
In Washington yesterday, Obama met for the first time with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba, who has been in the U.S. capital for about a week pursuing broader assistance from the American government.
The president joined a meeting between U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Jarba, who leads the moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition, according to a White House statement. Jarba’s delegation and U.S. officials affirmed their commitment to a political solution and discussed the threat of increasing extremism in Syria, according to the statement.
During the meeting, Obama and Rice condemned Assad for targeting civilian populations with indiscriminate aerial bombardments, according to the White House statement. They underscored the U.S. support for moderate opposition groups and called on the Assad regime to allow unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has seen disappointment himself in attempting to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, said yesterday that “Mr. Brahimi did not fail.”
“It’s a great mistake here to place on a peacemaking effort the notion that the failure of an envoy or a special envoy, or an inability to reach agreement, is the fault of the envoy,” Kerry told reporters. “It’s not. It’s the fault of a party, Assad, who will not negotiate. Who absolutely refused to negotiate at every single session.”