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World

Likely next Syria envoy a connected diplomat

The most likely choice for next UN-Arab League envoy to Syria has strong ties and experience in the region. While some praise Lakhdar Brahimi's diplomatic style, critics say his track record dooms him to failure.

In hot spots around the globe, Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has been at the ready to jump in the middle of things for decades. Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Haiti are among the conflict zones the United Nations and the Arab League have previously sent him.

Widely viewed as one of the world's most experienced diplomats, Brahimi is now being considered for what could be his toughest assignment yet, UN and Arab League envoy to Syria. His charge would be to bring peace to the war-torn country, something former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan failed to do.

Daunting conditions

Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, announced his resignation as first UN-Arab League envoy to Syria earlier this month.

Kofi Annan poses in Geneva on July 20, 2012. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

Annan cited discord within the international community when resigning as peace envoy

"Kofi Annan failed because the major powers had no desire to contribute to a peaceful solution in Syria," said Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI), an independent think tank in Berlin.

He added that neither Syrian ruler Bashar Assad nor the rebels are interested in finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Benner also put blame on UN Security Council members China and Russia for blocking a resolution that would condemn the Syrian regime's measures so far in the conflict.

The analyst said these are difficult conditions for a new mediator.

"The new envoy can say to himself, 'Kofi Annan, the diplomat with the strongest possible hand, has failed at peace'," Benner continued. "'Therefore, I will take on this challenge without any illusions and don't have anything to lose'."

On the contrary, journalist and Middle East expert Michael Lüders said he agreed with a Lebanese journalist who thought Brahimi is only brought in when the situation is politically hopeless.

Lüders is also convinced that unlike Annan, Brahimi's goal is not really to hammer out a peace deal.

"Western nations in particular, but also Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, want to see the fall of Bashar Assad," he said

Lüders added that Brahimi is an ideal candidate for those countries since unlike Annan, he is not opposed to deposing Assad.

Strong praise

"Brahimi is very frank, friendly, attentive, analytical man," said Lüders. The analyst added that Brahimi knows what his limits are when it comes to bringing about political change.

Yet Lüders also said it is important not to forget Brahimi made his career in Algeria, a country plagued with a history of military dictators and civil war.

Damaged tanks are seen at the town of Atareb on the outskirts of Aleppo after clashes between Free Syria Army and forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad, August 11, 2012. Picture taken August 11, 2012(REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout)

There has been no end in sight to fighting in Syria's second city, Aleppo



Benner said Brahimi would nevertheless bring strong qualities to the tricky mission, able to call on his diplomatic experience in many different countries.

Colleagues have described the father of three as a polite, effective communicator. Brahimi speaks fluent English, French and Arabic. Still, almost all of this goes for Annan, too.

Friends in high places

Brahimi's close ties to the upper echelons of both regional governments and royalty make him feel at home in the Arab world. His son-in-law is the half-brother of King Abdullah II of Jordan and himself a prince.

"That is both a blessing and a curse," said Benner.

Lakhdar Brahimi addresses the U.N. Security Council at the United Nations headquarters Tuesday Nov. 13, 2001. (AP Photo/David Karp)

Brahimi's diplomatic record has mixed reviews

He explained that on the one hand, it is an advantage to speak Arabic and have good connections in the region. But on the other hand, Benner thought, Brahimi has an established career to think about as he potentially takes on a very risky role.

For all his experience, Brahimi's critics say his missions are seldom successful. In 2001, he invited Afghan parties to the "Petersberg" conference in Germany to discuss the future government of Afghanistan, but excluded the Taliban.

"You can't make the generality that Brahimi has been completely successful or unsuccessful with his mandates," Benner said.

He added that Afghanistan's ongoing woes are hardly the fault of Brahimi.

Peacekeeping authority

Brahimi is respected within the UN as an authority on peacekeeping. The "Brahimi Report" published in 2000 is still viewed as a key blueprint for UN peacekeeping missions. The report's bottom line was that UN missions were quite noble but little effective at the time.

Diplomats expect the UN and Arab League to appoint Brahimi as their Syria envoy around the middle of the month. But Lüders is convinced Brahimi cannot turn things around.

"The time for a diplomatic solution is up," he said. "Decisions in Syria are being made militarily, and Brahimi knows it. He is certainly not going to venture" to Syria itself.

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