Middle East

U.N. envoy sees no return to Assad’s old Syria

Brahimi says a cease-fire is needed “very, very urgently.”

UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT: The old Syria ruled by President Bashar Assad’s family is finished and the “new Syria” will never be the same, the U.N. special envoy said Thursday, in a strong hint that Assad will have to step down before a civil war can end.

Syria’s key ally – and main arms supplier – Russia also responded to Brahimi’s assessment, suggesting that Assad could go and that his military campaign had not been effective in ending the crisis.

Speaking to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on what he said was the deteriorating situation in Syria, U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi did not mention Assad by name.

But when asked whether a peace plan being considered by diplomats would require regime change, the envoy said: “I think it’s very, very, very clear that the people of Syria want change, and real change, not cosmetic changes.”

“The new Syria will not look like the Syria of today,” he said.

In an apparent reference to the chaotic wartime collapses of the long-entrenched regimes in Libya and Iraq, he stressed the importance of not allowing state institutions to “wither away.”

Brahimi said there should be an “evolution toward the new Syria” and that “it’s the Syrians who will decide what kind of regime they will have.”

Like his predecessor Kofi Annan, who resigned earlier this year after his peace plan for the country ended in tatters, Brahimi also blamed internal divisions in the U.N. Security Council for a lack of progress in ending the violence in the country.

He said that any eventual cease-fire would require the presence of an international peacekeeping force, adding that while he has the elements for a possible peace plan, those elements “cannot be put together until the Council has come together and is ready to adopt a resolution that will be the basis for a political process.”

Brahimi said Syria “very, very urgently” needed a cease-fire and a large peacekeeping force. “A cease-fire will not hold unless it is very, very strongly observed. That, I believe, will require a peacekeeping mission.”

The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations has told Brahimi that if there were a more sustained cease-fire, it could put together a force of up to 3,000 monitors to keep fighters separated and maintain the truce, diplomats say.

Under a truce in April brokered by Annan, some 300 monitors and about 100 civilian experts were deployed to Syria to oversee the cease-fire that failed to take hold. As the conflict worsened, the Security Council allowed the force’s mandate to lapse and the unarmed monitoring team withdrew in August.

Although Brahimi said the Security Council was the only forum capable of taking action on Syria, the body remains divided between Western nations and Assad allies Russia and China.

Moscow and Beijing have blocked three Council resolutions condemning the Syrian regime, while Russia complains that the U.S. has refused to condemn car bombings by rebels in Syria.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, called Brahimi’s briefing “very sobering” and said Moscow was “extremely disturbed” by the rebels’ “brazen terrorist attacks.”

However, Churkin denied that Russia was blindly supporting the embattled Syrian government’s attempt to defeat the opposition, and he suggested that Assad was expendable.

Russia is “trying to impress on the government in Syria that there is no military solution,” Churkin said. “A military solution is not really working.”

Calling for negotiations between the regime and rebels, Churkin said: “We need really to find responsible people on both sides ... [to] swallow their pride.”

Asked if Assad should stay, Churkin said: “We’re not saying President Assad should be sitting at the table.”

Anti-regime activists say more than 35,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising started in March.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 30, 2012, on page 8.




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