UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council on Monday that reducing the violence in Syria isn’t possible unless the world body is united on a way to end the 18-month conflict.
Brahimi’s remarks underscored the U.N.’s paralysis in dealing with a civil war that has claimed more than 26,000 lives. He also was making clear that if he fails in his mission to help the country make the transition to new leadership, the responsibility won’t be his alone.
“You all say you support me individually, why don’t you support me collectively?” Brahimi told the gathered ambassadors when he briefed the Security Council, according to a diplomat in the room who wasn’t authorized to speak about the meeting. “It shouldn’t be very difficult,” the envoy told them.
Brahimi, who just returned from a trip to Damascus, Cairo and Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, spoke at the U.N. as world leaders gathered this week for the annual General Assembly. The Syrian conflict threatens to further destabilize a region already facing the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The veteran Algerian diplomat warned of the consequences.
“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 said, speaking to reporters outside the Security Council chamber.
Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, also placed some blame on the Security Council when he resigned from the position after less than six months, telling reporters about the “clear lack of unity” in the council as well as the “finger-pointing and name-calling.”
Joshua Landis, who heads the Middle Eastern department at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said Brahimi’s comments were meant to “underline the hypocrisy of the international community” that says it wants a solution to the violence yet won’t compromise to reach one.
“He’s also providing himself with an alibi,” Landis said in a telephone interview.
The Security Council has been deadlocked for more than a year as Russia and China have protected President Bashar Assad from censure in resolutions brought by the U.S. and allies. Russia in particular has made clear that it won’t allow a U.N. resolution to become the basis for military intervention, as happened in Libya in 2011.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York for the General Assembly, told a gathering of senior editors and television network anchors Monday that outside involvement just complicates matters. Instead, Iran supports the formation of a “national dialogue group” of countries, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, he said.
“Interventions from outside make conditions much tougher,” said Ahmadinejad, whose regime supports Assad.
“We are hopeful we can have a stand-up contact group,” Ahmadinejad said. “All of the actors must be present. I believe Turkey should be a part of these negotiations. What will occur within Syria is what the people of Syria decide.”
The Obama administration has said Iran is supplying weapons and materiel to Syria as well as sending military and technological specialists to help the Assad regime.
The U.S. believes that instead of letting the Syrian people decide the fate of their country, Iran “will stop at nothing to try to help prop up the Assad regime,” State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Sept. 20.
For the regime in Iran, the battle over Syria’s future is crucial. If Assad is forced from power, Shiite Iran would probably lose its most important regional ally and a linchpin in the so-called Shiite Crescent that runs through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Iran’s rivals, the Sunni Gulf nations, have long wanted a chance to curb its power and influence.
Brahimi’s assessment to the Security Council was grim, according to the diplomat who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly. He said the envoy described torture so routine that it’s not mentioned unless people are asked and the steady destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage.
At least 1.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes and 280,000 have fled to neighboring countries, Brahimi told the council. This year’s poor harvest means food shortages are looming.
The envoy also made clear that he can’t accept the premise that there’s no possible opening for a solution. “I do not have a full plan for the moment, but I do have a few ideas,” he told reporters.
Analysts such as Amr Al Azm said they were skeptical. “I don’t think Lakhdar Brahimi has any chance of success until the international community is ready to put in place serious consequences for the Syrian regime if it doesn’t comply,” said Al Azm, an associate professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, who is involved in opposition efforts to plan for a post-Assad Syria.
“If it doesn’t do that, this is doomed to failure and I think Brahimi knows that,” Al-Azm said in a telephone interview.
One sign that doesn’t speak well for Brahimi’s efforts is the rigidity of Security Council members’ positions, said Aram Nerguizian, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy group.
“They have been talking past each other for 18 months,” Nerguizian said. “The really distressing thing is the comfort with which both sides say we can’t bridge our differences.”
Gaouette reported from Washington. Contributors: Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait and Matthew Winkler in New York.