Turtle Bay

Brahimi: Syria is ‘breaking up before everyone’s eyes’

U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi issued an impassioned appeal to U.N. Security Council members, particularly the United States and Russia, to put aside their differences and to take firmer action to help stop the bleeding in Syria. The country, he warned, is on the verge of disintegrating and the Syrian combatants were undercutting prospects for ...

U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi issued an impassioned appeal to U.N. Security Council members, particularly the United States and Russia, to put aside their differences and to take firmer action to help stop the bleeding in Syria.

The country, he warned, is on the verge of disintegrating and the Syrian combatants were undercutting prospects for any hope of a diplomatic settlement.

"I’m sorry if I sound like an old broken record," Brahimi told the council, according to notes of his briefing obtained by Turtle Bay. "The country is breaking up before everyone’s eyes."

Brahimi told the council that the effort to persuade the warring factions to enter political talks had run aground, with the Syrian government and the armed opposition unwilling to talk to one another. Key regional powers, meanwhile, had picked sides in the conflict, transforming Syria into a "playground for competing forces."

The veteran U.N. trouble-shooter said the best hope for reversing the situation’s worsening trend lies with the Security Council, which has remained paralyzed by a big power split between Russia and China on one side, who oppose punishing Bashar al-Assad‘s government for its brutality, and Western and Arab powers on the other, who favor sanctioning Syria.

"The Security Council simply cannot continue to say we are in disagreement, therefore let us wait for better times," Brahimi told reporters after the meeting, adding that he would continue to discuss Syria at a dinner tonight with the council’s five major powers. "I think they have to grapple with this problem now."

Behind closed doors, Brahimi said the Syrian regime "is as repressive as ever, if not more," but that the armed opposition was also believed to have committed "equally atrocious crimes." He said international investigations are needed to get to the bottom of some of the country’s worst human rights calamities, including this week’s massacre of at least 65 people in Aleppo.

Brahimi said that he would continue to press the council’s permanent members, including the United States and Russia, at a private dinner tonight to reach agreement on a common approach to Syria.

He said he would continue to press for his plan for the establishment of a transitional government with "full executive powers."

Brahimi told reporters that it was time to "lift the ambiguity" about the meaning of that phrase, though he did not say publicly exactly what that would mean for Assad. Behind closed doors, however, he told council diplomats that "it clearly means that Assad should have no role in the transition…. Assad’s legitimacy has been irreparably damaged."

After the meeting, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that Washington "expressed strong support" for Brahimi’s peace efforts and that it will continue to engage in talks with Brahimi and other key powers. But, she said, "I don’t have any promises of any big breakthroughs."

Brahimi, meanwhile, confronted persistent rumors, published in the Arab press, that he was planning to resign from his job.

"I’m not a quitter, and the United Nations has no choice but to remain engaged with this problem" he told reporters. "The moment I feel that I am totally useless I will not stay one minute more."

"I didn’t want this job," he admitted, suggesting that perhaps he taken it on "stupidly." "I felt a sense of duty," said Brahimi.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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