Charlie Rose Talks to Lakhdar Brahimi

The United Nations special envoy to Syria discusses the chemical weapons resolution and the prospects for peace
Photograph by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Has the Assad regime been straightforward about its stocks of chemical weapons?
So far, they’ve done their share of what’s required of them. They were asked to submit a list of their weapons and also where you produce these horrible things. And the people in The Hague are happy with what they got. As far as I know, the Americans and the Russians think they have given a comprehensive list of what they have. The inspectors and experts who are going to deal with this problem are already in Beirut on their way to Damascus. So it’s moving forward.

Why do you think Bashar al-Assad is cooperating on WMDs?
Whatever the reason, he has done so. What we’ve been saying all along—the secretary general of the UN and myself—is that there is no military solution. The government is not going to win. They may be doing better today. They may be doing better next week. But they’re not going to win this war. Nor is the opposition going to defeat the government. You already have a stalemate. To stop it, you’ve got to put together a political process.

Did the U.S. make a mistake by not supporting the opposition earlier?
My criticism of the international community, the U.S. included, is that they haven’t put enough political will into finding a political solution. They thought this regime was just going to fall like Egypt. They thought it would be easy. The Russians were supporting the government in place. The Americans were supporting the opposition, and it took a long time for them to get together.

You’re trying to bring interested parties together in November for talks. Is the UN’s reputation riding on this?
I don’t think so. It’s about peace in the region. If we really believe what we say about caring for people, it’s great to be worked up about the use of chemical weapons that have killed 1,400. How about getting worked up about the 100,000 people who’ve been killed and the 7 million who lost everything? How about being worked up by that and saying we need a solution? This is what the UN is trying to convince people of.

Who represents the opposition at the talks?
That’s a little bit complicated. There are many, many groups. The group that is recognized by the West and the countries in the region—except Iran and Iraq—is the so-called Coalition. They will definitely come. But I think they know that they must bring other people with them so that they are more representative of the rich variety of the opposition.

Who else will be in Geneva?
The permanent members [of the UN Security Council] will definitely be there. The [Syrian] foreign minister. The idea now is [to include] the countries of the region around Syria, plus Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There are at least 1 million refugees in Jordan. More than 1 million, I think, in Lebanon. Half a million in Turkey.

What’s the risk of this spreading beyond Syria’s borders?
It’s already a regional crisis. It has all sorts of ingredients. The sectarian aspect of the problem is becoming more and more visible. And the proxy aspect … I’ve always said, since Afghanistan, you cannot bottle a war like this inside one country. It will overflow. We’ve seen one helicopter, Syrian, has been brought down in Turkey. One Turkish plane a few months ago was brought down along the border. Two, three more incidents like this, what will they produce?

What’s the optimal solution?
After these two and a half years of war, 100,000 people killed, the country ravaged, their past destroyed, we are not going back to the system created by Assad. We are going to create a new republic. That’s what Syria wants, and that’s what Syria will get, I hope.