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Lakhdar Brahimi, UN Special Envoy for Syria, Quits in Despair


Lakhdar Brahimi
Lakhdar Brahimi, center left, about to speak to the media the day of his resignation as United Nations special envoy on Syria. In front is Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman. MARK GARTEN/UN PHOTO

Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League special envoy on the Syrian crisis, has resigned as of May 31, ending many months of speculation on his leaving, particularly after the peace talks held this winter in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition failed. At that point, Brahimi blamed the collapse on the Syrian regime.

The announcement of his resignation was made at the UN’s daily press briefing in New York on May 13, during which the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, who appointed Brahimi to the post in August 2012, said that Brahimi’s departure is a “tragedy for the Syrian people” and a failure for the UN.

Although no names were mentioned as contending replacements, a diplomat from Europe told PassBlue that two possibilities were rumored at the UN: the former prime minister of Tunisia, Ali Larayedh, and the former prime minister (twice) of Australia, Kevin Rudd.

Brahimi, 80, is a veteran Algerian diplomat and negotiator who worked, among other posts, at the UN mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2004. He speaks so softly that it is sometimes difficult to understand him even when he is using a microphone. He appeared gaunt, always dressed in gray suits, soon after he took over the peace-negotiating role on Syria from Kofi Annan, the ex-secretary-general of the UN. Annan resigned from the job on Syria in equal despair.

Brahimi said at the briefing that he was “very, very sad to leave Syria in such a bad state” — alluding to the death toll, no doubt, of 150,000 if not more from the three-year civil war, plus the millions of people displaced. He added that he was sure that Ban would do “everything humanly possible” to work with the UN Security Council, the Syrian parties and the neighboring countries to end the crisis.

“I’m sure the crisis will end, but all [stakeholders] should consider how much more death, how much more destruction will occur . . . before Syria can become a new Syria,” Brahimi said.

Ban, who was unusually flummoxed at a press gathering yesterday as he evaded questions about Brahimi’s rumored departure, said today of Brahimi’s efforts to end the war that he “persevered, with great patience and skill, because he knows that without efforts towards a new Syria, the Syrian people will be condemned to further suffering.”

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Both warring parties in the conflict are accused of war crimes, and a French-sponsored Security Council resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for an investigation is said to be ready for a vote this week.

At the end of the day, Brahimi met with the press again, speaking in Arabic, English and French, revealing what he told the Security Council privately, that Iran, Syria’s close regional ally, had proposed a four-point peace plan for Syria: arrange a cease-fire, form a national unity government, conduct a constitutional review that would limit the powers of the president, among other provisions, and hold parliamentary and presidential elections.

Iran would also be willing, with Security Council approval, he added, to try to postpone the presidential elections that Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, is deploying in June, although Brahimi conceded it was too late to stop them.

Questioned by a reporter on his reference to a “new Syria” that could emerge if negotiations continue, Brahimi concluded that “history doesn’t work backward, you go forward, and I don’t think that the Syria of the 14th of March 2011 is going to be reinstated.”



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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Lakhdar Brahimi, UN Special Envoy for Syria, Quits in Despair
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