UN envoy assured he will get global backing
INTERNATIONAL ENVOY Lakhdar Brahimi will meet foreign ministers of the UN Security Council today to try to convince its divided members to, as he put it, “speak with a unified voice” on the Syrian crisis.
Unless he can persuade them to move back from the conflict that has divided the US, France and Britain on the one hand, and Russia, China and Iran on the other, his mission to halt the fighting and initiate negotiations on a political transition could fail – as did the efforts of his predecessor, Kofi Annan.
Annan’s mission collapsed, Brahimi says, “because the international community was not as supportive as he needed them to be. The problem is not what I can do differently, it is how others are going to behave differently.”
Brahimi took on the job reluctantly and only after initial contacts with the council reassured him that he would get the global backing he requires.
On the regional level, he will have to convince Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop arming and funding the rebels fighting the regime, and convince Russia and China to press the government to negotiate with the opposition. On the local level, he must deal with an autocratic government that insists it is under external attack, and a multiplicity of rebel groups with no overall command.
Born in Algeria in 1934, Brahimi left university to join his country’s liberation war against France, and at 22 was appointed the National Liberation Front’s envoy to southeast Asia.
After independence in 1962, he served as ambassador to Egypt and Britain. In the mid-1980s he was appointed under-secretary- general at the Arab League, then based in Tunis.
He made his name as a mediator in 1989 when he brokered the Taif agreement that ended Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. There are obvious parallels between that conflict and today’s Syrian crisis. To halt fighting among Lebanese factions, he had to first convince external powers to persuade their local allies to put down their arms and reconcile.
Between 1991 and 1993, he served as Algeria’s foreign minister, but was critical of the government’s drive to crush a Muslim fundamentalist revolt that followed the cancellation of a parliamentary election slated to be won by the fundamentalists. That decade-long conflict took 150,000-200,000 lives.
In 1994, he headed the UN mission to observe the South African election that brought to power Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president.
Brahimi has undertaken UN peace missions in Yemen, Haiti, half a dozen African countries, and in Afghanistan.
His efforts to prepare for Iraqi parliamentary elections and appoint an interim president and prime minister in April 2004 were countered by Paul Bremer, head of the US occupying administration. Brahimi resigned, accusing the US of failing to understand how to behave as the world’s superpower.
“There are lots of other people on this planet,” he stated. The US “should make an effort to learn how to live with them”. Before taking up the Syrian post, he admitted: “I might well fail, but we sometimes are lucky and we can get a breakthrough.”