UN envoy moves to revive Syrian peace plan


As the Syrian uprising enters its 21st month, all eyes are on Moscow today as UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi talks with officials there in hopes of reviving a months-old plan for a transitional government in Damascus designed to oversee a peaceful transfer of power.

That plan, a key element of the Geneva communique agreed at an international summit in June, had been considered dead in the water, chiefly because it did not address the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. Syria’s increasingly fractured opposition forces insist he step down as a precondition for talks. Mr Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, resigned in frustration shortly after crafting the Geneva agreement.

Diplomatic efforts are now focusing on Russia, long an Assad ally, in the hope it can play a key role in brokering a resolution.

At the end of a five-day trip to Damascus this week, during which he met Mr Assad, Mr Brahimi called for “real change” and argued the Geneva framework “includes elements that are sufficient for a plan to end the crisis in the next few coming months,” referring to a peacekeeping force to monitor a ceasefire and the creation of a transitional government.

He said such a body should be granted full executive powers until fresh elections could be held. But he did not comment on whether it should include figures from the regime – a stumbling block that is likely to complicate talks aimed at addressing the conflict, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

Syrian opposition figures in Damascus have been dismissive of his efforts. Many seized on his call for a transitional government with “all the powers of the state”, interpreting that as possibly meaning some role for Mr Assad.

Over the past month, Mr Brahimi has consulted extensively with the US and Russia over resurrecting the Geneva road map. In early December the veteran Algerian diplomat met US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Dublin for talks on the sidelines of the annual OSCE conference.

While diplomats dither, the fighting on the ground has taken on a fiercer, more sectarian hue, with rebels mostly from the Sunni Muslim majority battling Assad’s government and allied militia dominated by his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.