De Mistura New UN Envoy for Syria

Mr. Steffan de Mistura the Secretary-General's Special Representative (SRSG) for Afghanistan and head of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), speaks to the press following a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan.
July 10, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon has appointed Swedish-Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura as the UN special envoy for Syria.

De Mistura, who was previously UN representative to Iraq and Afghanistan, takes up the post vacated by Lakhdar Brahimi but unlike Brahimi or his predecessor, Kofi Annan, his is not a joint appointment with the Arab League.

While Annan was the joint UN-Arab League special envoy for Syria and Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League special representative, De Mistura’s title is UN special envoy.

His deputy has been named as Egyptian Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, who previously served as the Arab League’s envoy to the IAEA in Vienna. Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday that Ramzy’s appointment was made at the recommendation of the Arab League.

“I make it clear that Ambassador Ramzy was recommended by the League of Arab States, but he is going to be appointed by me, by the Secretary-General, and he is going to be the Deputy Special Envoy and he will work together with Mr. De Mistura,” Ban said. “But it is also important that we need to have closer coordination, consultation with the League of Arab States. That is a basic hallmark of our work until now, and it will continue to be so.”

Syria was suspended from membership of the Arab League in November 2011 and the decision by the UN to not appoint a joint envoy is viewed as a result of pressure from Damascus as well as a calculation that Damascus may work more cooperatively with an envoy not jointly appointed with the Arab League.

Annan served as joint special envoy from Feb. 2012 to Aug. 2012 and resigned after the failure of his six-point plan while Brahimi served from Aug. 2012 to May 2014 and resigned when it became clear that the Geneva Communique would not be implemented.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Homs Aid Convoy Still Stalled as Geneva Talks Stumble On

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Jan. 28, 2014 – A humanitarian aid convoy waiting to enter Homs remains stalled at the perimeter of the besieged Syrian city.

Lakhdar Brahimi announced on Sunday that armed groups had given assurances that the convoy would not be attacked if it entered Homs. However, government approval is holding up its entry

“The convoy is ready and still waiting to enter. The authorization has not been given yet,” Brahimi said at a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday.  “We haven’t given up on that.”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has not had access to the city since late 2012.

There is also no progress on evacuating civilians trapped in Old Homs. On Sunday, Brahimi said the Syrian government would allow women and children to immediately leave but concern for their male kin as well as a desire for aid to enter before they leave is reportedly holding up their departure from the city.

Meanwhile, negotiations for a political solution between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition  – their first face to face talks – have produced no tangible outcome so far. Brahimi, the UN-Arab League special representative mediating, acknowledged the difficulty of his task as the talks in the Swiss city enter the final three days.

“You know, I think I will repeat again that these are not easy negotiations and they haven’t been easy today, they haven’t been easy these past days and they will probably not be easy in the coming few days,” he said. “But, I am glad that you have been told by representatives of the two sides that they intend to stay and continue these discussions until Friday, as originally planned.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: Homs, April 2012/Wikimedia

Geneva Syria Talks Yield Progress on Humanitarian Issues

Montreux Conference in Geneva
Jan. 26, 2014 –  The Syrian government will allow trapped women and children to immediately leave the old city of Homs, Lakhdar Brahimi said on Sunday.

He was speaking after the second day of face to face talks between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva, Switzerland.

Aid agencies have for months called for a pause in fighting to allow trapped civilians to leave the city which is partially rebel-held.

Pro-Assad forces have bombarded Homs for almost three years and the government has also reportedly blocked electricity, water and phone service while families are living without heat and adequate food.

“With regard to Homs, there is an agreement now from the armed groups inside that they will not attack a humanitarian convoy if it enters Homs,” Brahimi said in Geneva, according to a transcript provided by the UN. “What I have been told by the Government side is that women and children in this besieged area in the old city are welcome to leave immediately.”

He said “other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the Government needs the list of their names first.” Asked by a reporter who recalled the Srebrenica massacre of men and boys if this list could be used to perpetrate a similar massacre, Brahimi answered: “We don’t have that fear. I don’t think we have that fear. Horrible things are happening in Syria, we don’t want anything like Srebrenica in addition to all of that. “

While the talks are aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis which will enter its fourth year in March, there’s little indication that progress has been made on this front, but Brahimi did note there is “mutual respect” between the negotiators and an awareness that the dire humanitarian situation had to be part of the talks.

“I think we all felt, and the two parties felt also, that you cannot start negotiations about Syria without having some discussions about the very, very bad humanitarian situation,” the Algerian diplomat said.

Talks are set to resume on Monday and are expected to turn to the heart of the matter: finding a political solution based on the Geneva Communique which calls for a mutually agreed transitional government with full executive powers.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Thirty Countries to Get Invites for Geneva Conference on Syria But Not Yet Iran

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UPDATED: Jan 19, 2013: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited Iran to the Geneva II talks, saying on Sunday that Tehran must be part of the solution and indicating that it supports the Geneva 1 communique which called for a transitional government with full executive powers. “They (Iran) said that they are committed to play a very constructive and important positive role. And they said that they welcome the Geneva Communique,” Ban said. “So based on my conversations, several times with Iranian delegations, then I am convinced that they will be in support of this Geneva Communique and they will play a very important and positive constructive role”  

In addition to Iran, Ban has invited nine more countries to the talks bringing the total number of countries participating to 40. The new invitees, in addition to Iran, are Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Holy See, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea.

Jan. 6, 2013 – The UN is inviting thirty countries to participate in the Geneva II conference on Syria but opposition from the US is holding up a decision on Iran’s participation.

Spokesperson Farhan Haq announced on Monday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was sending invitations to the list of countries agreed on Dec. 20 at a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Besides representatives of the Syrian government and opposition, the invitees include the permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – as well as Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.

High Representative of the EU, Cathy Ashton, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil ElAraby, and Organization for Islamic Cooperation Secretary-General Iyad bin Amin Madani are also invited to the conference to be convened by Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 22 in Montreux.

At a Dec. 20, 2013 press conference in Geneva, Brahimi told reporters that the UN favored Iran’s participation “but our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran’s participation would be the right thing to do.”

John Kerry said on Sunday in Jerusalem that Iran needs to accept the Geneva I communiqué, which called for a transitional government with full executive powers, before it gets an invite.

The first Geneva conference was held in June 2012. An estimated 15,000 people had died in the Syrian conflict at that point. At least 100,000 more have been killed since.

The text of the Geneva I communiqué is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN photo/JC McIlwaine

Brahimi Begins Work Telling Ban He’s Humbled and Scared

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Ban Ki-moon and Lakhdar Brahimi meet in Ban’s office in New York on Friday Aug. 24. (credit: UN photo)

Aug. 24, 2012 – Lakhdar Brahimi met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday telling him that he was “was honored, flattered, humbled and scared” when asked to take on the role of U.N. – Arab League joint special representative for Syria and that he is “still in that frame of mind.”

In a brief press encounter following a photo-opportunity, Ban told him that “you have the full respect and full support of the international community” and that “it is crucially important that the Security Council, the whole United Nations System is supporting your work.”

Whether the Security Council can unite around any proposals that Brahimi puts forward remains to be seen. China and Russia have vetoed three previous efforts to put pressure on Bashar Al-Assad.

Brahimi gave little away in terms of specifics, only saying that the needs of the Syrian people will be put above all others.

“They will be our first masters. We will consider their interests above and before everything else. We will try to help as much as we can. We will not spare any effort,” he said.

Brahimi, who will spend the next week in New York, also met Friday morning with U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos and Jeffrey Feltman, head of political affairs, whose department now has control of the Syria mission, taking over from the department of peacekeeping since the withdrawal of the unarmed observer force from Syria.

Brahimi is meeting with France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, later in the afternoon, his spokesman said. France currently preside over the Security Council and have called a ministerial meeting for Aug. 30 to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had asked the foreign ministers from neighboring countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) to attend.

– Denis Fitzgerald

New Title, New HQ as Brahimi Seeks New Solution to Syria Crisis

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Aug. 21, 2012  – Lakhdar Brahimi, the newly appointed United Nations – Arab League joint special representative for Syria, will be in New York later this week, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Tuesday.

The former Algerian foreign minister will also be based out of New York, Nesirky confirmed, unlike his predecessor Kofi Annan, who set up headquarters in Geneva for the four months he spent seeking a solution to the Syrian crisis.

Brahimi also has a different title than Annan, who was joint special envoy for Syria. The new title and new headquarters for his peace mission indicate that Brahimi does not merely want to be seen as a replacement for Annan (a co-member of the Elders) but as someone who can bring his own ideas and experience to bear on brokering a solution.

He’s already incurred ire from the opposition by stating that it’s too early for him to say if Assad should go and angered the regime by describing the current situation in Syria as a civil war.

– Denis Fitzgerald