Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and longtime U.N. diplomat known as a strong-willed, independent broker, has agreed to replace former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as peace envoy to Syria, the United Nations announced Friday.
Brahimi, who served as a U.N. envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq, formally accepted the post and will resume efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Syria’s crisis, said Eduardo del Buey, deputy spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
“The violence and the suffering in Syria must come to an end,” del Buey said. “The Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council.”
Annan announced earlier this month that he would resign on Aug. 31 as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, after failing to broker a cease-fire as the country descended into civil war. The U.N. says at least 18,000 people have been killed since March 2011.
Brahimi will travel to New York and then Cairo in the coming days.
Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from Paris, Brahimi said “I realize it’s an extremely complicated and very, very difficult mission.” He said he hopes military intervention isn’t necessary, and that talking about a military option is akin to admitting diplomatic failure.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Brahimi’s appointment, saying he “will continue the pursuit of an end to the conflict and a peaceful transition in Syria.”
“My message to special envoy Brahimi is simple: The United States stands ready to support you and secure a lasting peace that upholds the legitimate aspirations for a representative government of the people of Syria,” Clinton said. “And to the Syrian people: you are not alone. The international community remains fully committed to a Syrian-led political transition leading to a pluralistic political system representing the will of the people.”
Brahimi, 78, who emerged last week as the leading candidate to replace Annan, brings a long record of working in the Arab and Islamic world. He served as Algeria’s foreign minister from 1991-93 and joined the United Nations in 1994, where he served in a variety of high-profile posts until he retired in 2005.
As an Arab League envoy, Brahimi helped negotiate the end of Lebanon’s civil war.
Several U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said Brahimi had delayed taking the job as Syria envoy because he wanted a signal of support from the council. What kind of support Brahimi wanted remains unclear.
Gerard Araud, the French U.N. ambassador and current Security Council president, has called the special envoy post something of an “impossible mission” and said he could understand why someone would take their time before deciding to take it.
Annan said when he announced his resignation on Aug. 2 that the Security Council’s divisions prevented the united approach needed to stop the fighting in Syria. Russia and China have used their veto power three times to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
On Thursday, Araud announced that the Security Council had agreed to end the U.N. military observer mission and back a small new liaison office that will support any future peace efforts. The 15 council members agreed that international efforts to significantly reduce violence and end the Syrian government’s use of heavy weapons — conditions set for possibly extending the observer mission — had failed.
Expectations for what Brahimi can accomplish should be lower than they were for Annan, whose mission suffered from unrealistic hopes, said Richard Gowan, associate director of the New York University Center on International Cooperation. Still, Brahimi is the right kind of negotiator for the job, he said.
“Brahimi has an incredibly strong reputation around the U.N., but is also well-known for not taking orders from the big powers or worrying too much about media attention,” Gowan said in an e-mail. “This may be just what is needed in Syria now: a hardened but independent mediator, who will stick with diplomatic efforts even if he faces a lot of criticism for failing to cut a deal fast.”
Brahimi is a member of the Elders, a group of former world leaders working for global peace that includes Nelson Mandela. Last week, Brahimi issued a statement through the Elders on Syria, where he last visited while on a delegation with the group in 2010.
“Syrians must come together as a nation in the quest for a new formula,” he said. “This is the only way to ensure that all Syrians can live together peacefully, in a society not based on fear of reprisal, but on tolerance. In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council and regional states must unite to ensure that a political transition can take place as soon as possible.
“Millions of Syrians are clamoring for peace. World leaders cannot remain divided any longer, over and above their cries.”
Brahimi’s long U.N. career took him to countries like Haiti, Yemen, Sudan and South Africa, where he led U.N. efforts to oversee democratic elections that brought Mandela to power.
In Afghanistan, Brahimi served as the U.N. envoy both before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and after a U.S.-led force ousted the Taliban. In Iraq, he helped piece together the interim government that took power in 2004, following the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Brahimi served as Annan’s special advisor on conflict prevention and resolution. He also headed independent panels that reviewed U.N. peacemaking efforts and security worldwide.
During Annan’s six-month tenure, the Syrian government and its allies did at least agree to his six-point peace plan. The plan included a cease-fire leading to a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis. While Annan singled out the regime for failing to take steps to end the violence, as required by the peace plan, he also blamed the opposition’s increasingly militant tactics for dooming his plan.
Araud last week defended the need for appointing another special envoy to Syria.
“We simply can’t let down the Syrians and say to these people ‘Go fight and come back when you are done with your fighting,'” he said. “Maybe the special envoy will be useless in the first week or in the first weeks, but at least there will be somebody to seize every opportunity to find a political solution.”