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Middle east

Brahimi issues stark warning on Syria to United Nations

Video by Stephen Carroll , Claire BONNICHON

Latest update : 2012-09-25

Syria topped the agenda at the United Nations on Monday as Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, warned the Security Council that the Syrian conflict was worsening and threatened to contaminate the whole region.

Syria's civil war is worsening and there is no prospect of a quick end to the violence, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Monday in a gloomy assessment to the UN Security Council.

The new envoy leavened his message, however, by saying he was crafting a new plan that he hoped could break the impasse, but refused to give details or say when it would be ready.

Despite President Bashar al-Assad's refusal to end his family's 40-year-long grip on power, some tentative hope of a solution remained, Brahimi said, in his first briefing to the council since he took over from Kofi Annan on Sept. 1 as the joint UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria.

"I think there is no disagreement anywhere that the situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse, that it is a threat to the region and a threat to peace and security in the world," Brahimi told reporters after the closed-door talks.

Disunity at the Security Council

Brahimi returned from Syria and refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey on Monday with a gloomy report on a looming food crisis, battle-damaged schools and shuttered factories that contradicted his insistence that he saw grounds for optimism, including "some signs'' that the divided Syrian opposition may be moving toward unity -- a prerequisite for any future political negotiations Brahimi would oversee.

Brahimi also addressed the lack of unity at the Security Council, stating that without the council's total and united support he was nothing, effectively lowering the bar on expectations -- at least in the short term -- according to FRANCE 24's correspondent in New York, Nathan King. King also noted the stronger tone from Brahimi, who went on to condemn the destruction of the country.

Brahimi said about 2,000 schools had been damaged and others used as shelter by those who had lost their homes. Many factories and pharmaceutical laboratories were also destroyed or falling into disrepair, and he said that food shortages were likely in the near future because of a poor harvest.

Activists estimate that nearly 30,000 people have died in the uprising that began in March 2011, including in fresh attacks Monday by Syrian warplanes in the northern city of Aleppo.

‘Reform is not enough’

Brahimi told the council that he believed Assad's goal was to return the country to being "the old Syria'' that he and his father had ruled as dictators for four decades.

He said Assad's intention was to portray the uprising as fuelled by outside nations in a bid to discredit his internal opponents.

Nevertheless, Brahimi indicated that he believes reason will prevail.

"I refuse to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward, that you cannot go back to the Syria of the past. I told everybody in Damascus and everywhere that reform is not enough anymore, what is needed is change,'' said Brahimi, who has met with Assad and other regime officials in Damascus.

“Paradoxically, now that I have found out a little more about what is happening in the country and the region, I think that we will find an opening in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

Despite a call from Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to maintain backing for Annan's six-point peace plan, which starts with a ceasefire and ends with a political transition, Brahimi said only that Annan's ideas would remain "elements in my toolbox".

Brahimi said it wasn't yet clear how his new proposals might incorporate Annan's plan and a June declaration by world leaders in Geneva backing the peace process. The six-point plan never took hold and its calls for a ceasefire were largely ignored by the government and the rebels before it ultimately collapsed.

The new special envoy said he wants to hold further discussions before disclosing precisely what action he plans to propose. “I do not have a full plan for the moment, but I do have a few ideas,” he said.

According to a diplomat inside the council's private briefing, who demanded anonymity because he was not authorised to reveal details to the public, Brahimi was also reluctant to discuss the proposals with the Security Council. "He kept his cards very close to his chest,'' he said.

Behind closed doors, Brahimi urged Security Council members to overcome the diplomatic deadlock that has paralysed its ability to help end the crisis.

The Security Council is the only UN body that can impose global sanctions and authorise military action. Russia, Syria's key protector, and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to halt the violence and open talks with his opponents on a transition of power.

Regional leaders must condemn Assad

But Brahimi did have a recommendation for regional leaders, who he said must follow the example of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi in overtly condemning the Assad regime.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, has said that Iran remains neutral on the Syrian civil war while denying allegations that Tehran is providing weapons and training to Assad's regime.

"We like and love both sides, and we see both sides as brothers,'' Ahmadinejad said. He referred to the conflict in Syria as "tribal'' fighting and said that "meddling from the outside has made the situation even harder". He refused to say whether Iran would accept a government not led by the Assad regime, which for years has been Iran's closest ally in the Middle East.

Ahmadinejad also alluded to the amateur video made in California that insulted the Prophet Mohammed, accusing the United States and the West of misusing freedom of speech and failing to speak out against the defamation of people's beliefs and their “divine prophets”.

The Iranian leader also called Israel a nuclear-armed "fake regime".

(FRANCE 24 with wires)
 

Date created : 2012-09-24

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