UN and Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi began his Syria mission yesterday by meeting league officials and senior Egyptian leaders before heading to Damascus on his first official trip to the region.
Brahimi, replacing former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who quit as envoy over divisions in the UN Security Council on the violence that has gripped Syria for nearly 18 months, arrived in Cairo late on Sunday from New York via Paris. Annan stepped down as international efforts to end the conflict faltered, and with no signs of the bloodshed ending, expectations are low that the former Algerian foreign minister will have any more success than his predecessor.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict erupted in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The UN puts the death toll at 20,000.
Brahimi, a veteran troubleshooter, has already said he was “scared” of the mission awaiting him in Syria and has described the bloodshed there as “staggering” and the destruction as “catastrophic.”
Brahimi spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters at Cairo airport the peace envoy was to meet Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi and other officials yesterday.
Fawzi said the date of Brahimi’s visit to Syria is to be fixed once the final details of his program of meetings were set.
Brahimi’s mission begins with key UN Security Council members the US and Russia split on how to tackle the conflict and as fighting rages, with dozens of people dying in Syria every day.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Sunday that a new Security Council resolution on Syria would be pointless if it had “no teeth,” because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would ignore it.
Speaking in Russia, Clinton said she was willing to work with Moscow on a new resolution, but said that Washington would step up support to end al-Assad’s regime if the measure did not carry consequences.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting Clinton that he hoped to seek Security Council approval for a peace plan agreed in June in Geneva that called for a ceasefire and political transition.
Clinton said if differences with Moscow persist, “then we will work with like-minded states to support a Syrian opposition to hasten the day when Assad falls.”
Washington has said it is providing non-lethal assistance to the opposition in Syria, whose regime has been a Moscow ally since the Cold War.
As part of his diplomatic push, Brahimi may try to enlist Iran. In Tehran, the Mehr news agency quoted an official as saying Brahimi was contemplating visiting the Islamic republic — Syria’s diehard ally — after Damascus.
Annan had also visited Tehran, but Washington has accused Iran of playing a “nefarious” role in Syria.
Arab leaders, meanwhile, have accused the Syrian regime of carrying out “crimes against humanity.”
Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday condemned “the pursuit of violence, killings and ugly crimes carried out by the Syrian authorities and their shabiha militias against Syrian civilians.”
Even as the latest diplomatic push to resolve the crisis unfolds, the fighting in Syria continues unabated, with scores of people reported killed.
The conflict has also triggered a massive exodus, with current Syrian refugee numbers in neighboring countries now 235,000, according to official UN figures.