BEIRUT: Former U.N.-Arab League peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi tried unsuccessfully to convince President Bashar Assad to be a “kingmaker and not a king.”
In an interview conducted with Al-Hayat newspaper, Brahimi described his efforts to convince Assad to accept a behind-the-scenes political role, made during two separate meetings, which came to nothing.
“The first time, he said, ‘Why not? I’m not going to be around forever,’” Brahimi said. “The second time, he said ‘I’m a Syrian citizen, and they talk about democracy ... No one can prevent me from nominating myself [for re-election].’”
The two-part interview, whose first installment was published Wednesday, said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at one point told Brahimi that Moscow’s influence with the Syrian regime was not as important as people believed.
“‘We have less influence on Bashar than the Americans have on [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu,’” Brahimi said was Lavrov’s comment when asked about pressuring Damascus.
Brahimi stepped down earlier this year after he failed to make any progress in negotiations between the regime and the opposition-in-exile the National Coalition.
He said both sides in the conflict experienced phases of confidence that they would prevail – the opposition in 2012, and the regime the following year. “I don’t blame the opposition for its sense of victory in 2012. It was hearing from major powers that the conflict had been settled, and that Bashar Assad would be out.”
Brahimi also described the Geneva I Accord of 2012, which called for a transitional political phase as a solution to the crisis, as a “superficial” document.
The veteran Algerian diplomat said that the “Arab Spring” uprisings produced several major miscalculations by observers, who failed to predict the downfall of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, while underestimating the relative staying power of Libya’s Moammar Qadhafi, whose regime was targeted by NATO forces.