UN Syria Envoy Brahimi Quits After Failure of Peace Talks

Lakhdar Brahimi resigned as United Nations special envoy in charge of mediating peace talks on the civil war in Syria, further dimming prospects for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 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 today. Brahimi said he is very sad to leave Syria “in such a bad state.”

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.

Council Paralyzed

“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 today “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.

Chlorine Attacks

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 today, 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 today.

This effort, too, is unlikely to produce a result, as a Russian veto again is probable.

Picking Successor

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.

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