CAIRO, Sept 10, 2012 (AFP)
CAIRO, Sept 10, 2012 (AFP)
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Monday began what he called a “very difficult” mission to bring peace to Syria with talks in Egypt, as he made his first official trip to the region.
Brahimi, replacing former UN chief Kofi Annan who quit over divisions in the UN Security Council on the deadly violence that has gripped Syria for nearly 18 months, arrived in Cairo late on Sunday.
“I realize it’s a very difficult mission, but I think it is not my right to refuse to give whatever assistance I can to the Syrian people,” Brahimi told reporters after talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
“I am at the service of the Syrian people alone,” he said, adding: “I will go to Damascus in a few days and I will meet officials and civil society members in the capital and outside.”
Asked if he would meet Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Brahimi said: “I hope to but I don’t know.”
Brahimi’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said late Sunday that the date of the envoy’s visit to Syria would be fixed once his program of meetings is finalized.
The Algerian former foreign minister is also due to meet Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr later on Monday.
Expectations that he will have any more success than Annan are low, however.
The 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.”
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 United Nations puts the death toll at 20,000.
Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in Cairo, Iran said it was joining officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for a four-way “contact group” meeting looking at ways to calm the conflict in Syria.
An Iranian deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, had left Tehran for Cairo to take part in the meeting, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran’s Al-Alam Arabic-language broadcaster.
Brahimi’s mission begins with key Security Council members the United States 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 Clinton said on Sunday that a new UN resolution on Syria would be pointless if it had “no teeth,” because Assad would ignore it.
Speaking in Russia, Clinton said she was willing to work with Moscow on a new resolution but warned that Washington would step up support to end 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.”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 to try to get it involved in finding an end to the bloodshed, but Washington has accused Iran of playing a “nefarious” role in Syria.
Arab leaders, meanwhile, have denounced the Syrian regime for 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 neighbouring countries now 235,000, according to UN figures.