Lakhdar Brahimi says country’s civil war could plunge entire region into chaos; warns alternatives are ‘hell or a political process’
The United Nations envoy for Syria warned Saturday that the country’s civil war could plunge the entire region in chaos by sending an unbearable stream of refugees into neighboring countries, but his talks in Moscow brought no sign of progress toward settling the crisis.
Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both said after their meeting that the 21-month Syrian crisis can only be settled through talks, while admitting that the parties to the conflict have shown no desire for compromise. Neither has hinted at a solution that would persuade the government and the opposition to agree to a ceasefire and sit down for talks on political transition.
Brahimi, who arrived in Moscow on one-day trip following his talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this week, voiced concern about the escalation of the conflict, which he said is becoming “more and more sectarian.”
Brahimi warned that “if you have a panic in Damascus and if you have a million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places – Lebanon and Jordan,” and that those countries could break if faced with half a million refugees.
Brahimi said that “if the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then we have got all of us to work ceaselessly for a political process.”
Russia has been the main supporter of Assad’s regime since the uprising began in March 2011, using its veto right at the UN Security Council along with China to shield its last Mideast ally from international sanctions.
Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia would continue to oppose any UN resolution that would call for international sanctions against Assad and open the way for a foreign intervention in Syria. And while he again emphasized that Russia “isn’t holding on to Bashar Assad,” he added that Moscow continues to believe that the opposition demand for his resignation as a precondition for peace talks is “counterproductive.”
“The price for that precondition will be the loss of more Syrian lives,” Lavrov said.
Both Brahimi and Lavrov insisted that peace efforts must be based on a peace plan approved at an international conference in Geneva in June.
The Geneva plan called for an open-ended cease-fire, a transitional government to run the country until elections, and the drafting of a new constitution, but it was a non-starter with the opposition because on Russian insistence it left the door open for Assad being part of the transition process and didn’t contain any mention of possible UN sanctions.
Brahimi said that while some “little adjustments” could be made to the original plan, “it’s a valued basis for reasonable political process.”
With the opposition offensive gaining momentum, there was little hope that the initiative would have more chance for success than it had when it was approved.