UN Diplomacy in Syria: Take Two

Faced with a worsening situation, the new UN/Arab League Special Representative for Syria is keeping expectations low.

If anyone was hoping the new UN/Arab League Special Representative for Syria had some dramatic new plan to bring peace to the country they are going to be sorely disappointed.

“People say you aren’t doing much, people are dying. They are right,” Lakhdar Brahimi admitted when we sat down for an interview at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The soft-spoken diplomat said he is doing all he can, nevertheless, to find something that will help ease the suffering. But ultimately it comes down to the Syrian government and the opposition to end the violence.

Brahimi is keeping expectations low, faced with more fighting, a worsening humanitarian crisis, and an international community divided over how to end the conflict.

“Change is necessary, indispensable, unavoidable,” he said, declining to elaborate on what kind of change. He said it is too soon for him to say if President Bashar al-Assad must step down though his predecessor, Kofi Annan, and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have both done so and the opposition Syrian National Council refuses to negotiate with him.

His first order of business is to meet with all of the players in the conflict – including Assad – and listen to what they have to say. What more can be said after 18 months of conflict, 6 months of mediation by Annan and an estimated 20,000 dead?

“Plenty,” insists Brahimi, who points out the situation on the ground is changing by the hour. He also said more weapons in Syria isn’t the answer.

The Security Council has been bitterly divided on how to resolve the conflict, with many countries now working outside of the UN to support one side or the other.

Brahimi, who is known for his independence, said no country can deny the suffering of the Syrian people caught in the crossfire, as documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross. He’s hopeful that when he comes up with a plan, the Security Council will rally behind it and refused to criticise any country’s position. And he is willing to work with all regional players, including Iran, to find a solution.

He speaks like a seasoned diplomat … at a time when many wonder if a diplomatic solution is possible.

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