Don’t Put Syria Aside, Brahimi Says Amid Ukraine Crisis

More than 350,000 people will have died in Syria’s civil war by next year if peace talks don’t restart, United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said in an effort to keep an international spotlight on the conflict.

“I told the Security Council that Syria cannot be placed on a back burner,” Brahimi told the UN General Assembly yesterday, according to a transcript. “A crisis of this magnitude needs the full attention of this organization.”

With the Security Council set to take up a resolution today on Russia’s move into Ukraine, Brahimi sought to underscore the continuing human and economic costs of Syria’s civil war, which entered its fourth year this week with more than 130,000 people killed. He said more than 300 Syrians flee their homes every hour.

“Every additional day of the conflict costs Syria over $100 million in its gross domestic product,” which by the end of last year contracted by 42 percent from its pre-war level, Brahimi said. Three years of war have cost Syria more than 30 years of development, Brahimi said ahead of a trip to a Iran, a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Brahimi will arrive in Tehran tomorrow, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in an e-mail. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that Iran can play a crucial role in pressuring the Syrian government to participate in the peace process “in a more constructive way.”

The Brahimi-led peace talks known as Geneva II collapsed last month as the Assad government and the opposition disagreed on whether a political transition is needed to end the conflict.

‘Power Brokers’

Hadi al-Bahra, the chief negotiator for the main Western-backed opposition group in Syria, said the crisis in Ukraine “took the spotlight” away.

How the “power brokers work out the situation in Ukraine in relation to other issues” such as negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program, and how the U.S. sees its role in the world, will determine whether there can be progress on the failed peace talks, Bahra told reporters yesterday in New York.

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari yesterday reiterated his government’s position that peace talks must focus on combating terrorism. Assad maintains that the conflict is a battle against foreign-backed terrorists and extremists, not a civil war.

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