Only close cooperation between the United States and Russia can end the “terrible tragedy” in Syria, says Lakhdar Brahimi, the highly respected international mediator in the Middle East for more than two decades.
Brahimi, who led United Nations missions in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq before becoming the special joint envoy of the Arab League and the UN on peace efforts in Syria from 2012 to 2014, adds that Russian and American diplomats have in fact been working cooperatively for several years, but they have not been helped by Western intelligence agencies and politicians who continue to insist that President Bashar al-Assad will certainly fall sooner or later, contrary to realities on the ground. He calls their analysis and influence “utterly condemnable.”
Brahimi, also the author of monumental report in 2000 on the shortcomings of UN peacekeeping, spoke in an interview on March 14 as a tenuous cease-fire continued in Syria. He touched on the wider context of the crisis, including his work with two US secretaries of state, the advantages Russia built up over the years in Syria beyond military ties, the “sophisticated and nuanced” superiority of Moscow’s diplomats in the region, and the fatal mistakes or miscalculations of President Bashar al-Assad that caused the deaths of many thousands of Syrian civilians, drove many thousands more into exile, and alienated most of those who survive. He was speaking in a telephone conversation from Cornell University, where he is the first international practitioner-in-residence at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.