Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy, says that "at the moment, the only way to address the Syrian crisis is through the United Nations Security Council."
In his first press meeting with Al-Hayat following his meetings to discuss Syrian affairs with the five permanent members of the Security Council, Brahimi said this "beautiful statement that made the five countries focus on the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the transition process in Geneva in June has been widely dubbed as ‘constructive ambiguity.' There comes a time, however, when this ambiguity must be ended.”
The full text of the interview follows:
Al-Hayat: It is clear that the depth of your pain about what is happening in Syria and the devastation it faces is what makes you persistent no matter the obstacles placed in your way. Realistically speaking, do you possess the tools that would make you more optimistic about putting an end to the bloodshed, especially following your meetings with the members of the Security Council and with the five permanent members in particular?
Brahimi: This is the only door to address the political process of the Syrian crisis. There is no other way. Thus, I have been knocking on this door for some time now. It seems there is a peephole of hope, especially in light of the three meetings I held with the Americans and Russians, and in light of yesterday’s meeting [Jan. 29] with the Security Council and its five permanent members. They are all aware of the seriousness of the situation. I believe I managed to make them sense their responsibility. Syria is crumbling now. Is it not true that the Security Council is responsible for peace or security?
Al-Hayat: Have you detected any actual sense of responsibility on the part of the Security Council’s members to take necessary actions?
Brahimi: Let us say that they have been affected by my words, which was exactly what I intended. My point is that there is no other way to deal with the Syrian crisis and rescue Syria other than through the Security Council.
Al-Hayat: I would like to go into details, if I may. You spoke at the Security Council with the five permanent members and the press about the need to demystify an important element in the transitional political process, which is the transitional body with full powers. You also said that President Assad will not have any role in this process.
Brahimi: No, I did not say this. In Geneva in June, I said that this statement appealed to politicians and was widely called “constructive ambiguity.” However, there comes a time when this ambiguity must be ended. Now, the government that is to be formed ought to exercise full powers in every sense of the word, and this definition must be provided by the Security Council.
Al-Hayat: Would you please try to be more specific.
Brahimi: So much precision is enough.
Al-Hayat: The five permanent members said you were clear at the meeting.
Brahimi: I do not wish to say more on this point.
Al-Hayat: Is there any way or available means to form the transitional body with full powers?
Brahimi: The formation of such a transitional body is not difficult. It must be done with the participation of known and accepted figures from both sides, the government and the opposition. I also said that the negotiating committee ought to include a strong team representing the entire spectrum of the Syrian opposition, and another strong team representing civil and military forces and the government. This should be the first step. The government is to be formed through this committee. Syrians must form their own government.
Al-Hayat: At what exact time or date will this process be possible?
Brahimi: I do not know.
Al-Hayat: It has been reported that during your meeting with the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council, you put forth six points and not a draft resolution. It has been also said that you wished that these points will be included in any decision made by the Security Council. As I learned, these six points did not include a cease-fire as a launch pad for the political process, along the line of Kofi Annan’s plan. What is the logic behind your proposal?
Brahimi: The Arab League and Annan came to a conclusion that the cease-fire alone will not solve this dilemma. However, should there be any solution, the cease-fire is undoubtedly the first step on this path, but it should be a part of an integrated process. Fighters will not accept a cease-fire until they know where they are heading. People also want to know where they are heading.
Al-Hayat: As I learned, you based your proposal on the principle of the safety of Syrian territories and the dignity of the Syrian people. Afterwards, a transitional body with full powers will be formed. However, it was not clear what you meant by negotiations between parties as a principle, and negotiations to agree on a time frame for the electoral process. What is the difference between the two?
Brahimi: I would rather not go into these details at the moment. This issue is best left in the hands of the Security Council. Other than this, we cross that bridge when we come to it.
Al-Hayat: But, what do you think negotiations, as a general principle, will be like?
Brahimi: Do you want us, you and me, to solve the Syrian issue?
Al-Hayat: No, but people would like to know what is happening. There are many leaks and we are trying to clarify the picture.
Brahimi: My statements have all been leaked.
Al-Hayat: I only wish to understand your strategy. Is it based on what has been achieved along the lines of the Afghanistan model, in the sense that international efforts alongside regional effort must be employed to solve the crisis? Or are you focusing on the Security Council alone?
Brahimi: I do not have a recipe for solving the Syrian crisis or any other issue. At the moment, we are in contact with the Security Council, and as I said explicitly, our brothers in Syria are unable to talk and solve their problem on their own. If this were possible, it would be the best choice. If the countries in the region can help, this would also be a good choice. "Set a thief to catch a thief” — in this case is the Syrians and the region’s countries. However, apparently they are not able to come out with a solution. [Here comes the role] of the Security Council, which is responsible for international peace and security. We are knocking on this door and we are trying to pry it open, but it hasn’t yet opened. If this door opens, I will be ready and at the disposal of the Security Council. If it needs me, I will be available.
Should we come up with an agreement and should the Security Council — which is the highest body responsible for international peace and security — issue a decision to this effect, all concerned parties will be more attentive to the efforts that are being made. The Syrian parties and the region’s countries must have a role, but what role? The role that the region’s countries allocated to themselves has been to no avail. They even reiterated that the Security Council ought to take a stance. At the moment, we raised the issue to the Security Council and we shall wait and see.
Al-Hayat: So, the main obstacle remains the US-Russian understanding. Have you overcome this obstacle during the meeting with US and Russian officials, or have you at least opened this window?
Brahimi: I spoke to them and it was a good and useful meeting. With their consent, we met with the five permanent members of the Security Council. The ball is in their court now. I am heading to Munich and then to Cairo and we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.
Al-Hayat: So, as I understand from you, the Security Council is now required to issue a document or a text?
Brahimi: No, not a document…
Al-Hayat: As we understood from your meetings and statements, you wish that the Security Council would issue a decision?
Al-Hayat: Do you actually see a possibility for resolving the US-Russian differences through the issuance of a UN Security Council resolution?
Brahimi: Ask them.
Al-Hayat: As someone who understands the situation in the region and Syria and internationally, what do the United States and Russia want from Syria?
Brahimi: I do not know what the United States or Russia want.
Al-Hayat: Do you see a possibility of reaching an understanding on the Syrian issue?
Brahimi: God willing. It is necessary to reach an understanding.
Al-Hayat: But are there requirements beyond the Syrian issue?
Brahimi: God knows.
Al-Hayat: Some have talked about the “next day” strategy, a phrase that has been used repeatedly. What is your understanding of the “next day,” and what does the phrase mean?
Brahimi: Ask those who proposed it. To me, the “next day” strategy reflects the need for Syria to avoid retaliation and chaos. As for the “next day” strategies others are talking about, ask them about it.
Al-Hayat: King Abdullah II said in Davos that what we are facing today is a new “Taliban” in Syria.
Brahimi: I have no information about this issue.
Al-Hayat: You have warned of the ramifications of the civil war in Syria on the region. What are the ramifications which you fear may spill over to Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq?
Brahimi: These are interconnected areas made up of one people, who have interconnected and similar ideas. Problems already exist in Lebanon. A crisis of such scale cannot be contained within the borders of one country, and will certainly spill over to neighboring countries. Although these countries are very close, the spillover will be even more dangerous.
In Afghanistan, it was assumed that the Afghans will kill each other in a remote, far-away country. But the crisis spilled outside the borders of Afghanistan, mainly through drugs. In Iran, there are close to four million drug addicts, and all the drugs are Afghani. There are also four to five million addicts in Pakistan, in addition to the violence and religious extremism there. All of this came from Afghanistan. The crisis then extended on Sep. 11. Thus, if the situation in Syria continues and worsens, it will definitely affect [other countries]. The signs are already evident.
Al-Hayat: Are you talking about a fragmentation and disintegration of Syria? Is this what you fear?
Brahimi: Of course. And, by this, I don’t mean to underestimate the Syrian people. Syria is a great and dear country. Its people are made up of groups and individuals that are among the best in the world. However, under such circumstances, the results are known and obvious. Somalia also has a good people. But when wounds worsen in a country, the consequences cannot be ignored.
When I went to Iraq in April 2004 and said that the situation was a civil war, I was strongly criticized. The Iraqis refused to characterize the situation in their country as a civil war, as did the British and Americans. Today, the same is happening in Syria. The Syrians, whether in the government or opposition, refuse to admit that there is a civil war in Syria. The disintegration of the country would definitely happen amid a crisis of such depth and breadth.
Al-Hayat: Do you believe that the disintegration process has begun?
Brahimi: I do not know if it has begun. What I know is that 100 to 200 people are dying every day. One million people are now outside the country, and four million, a quarter of the country, are refugees. Syria was a self-sufficient country with no hungry people. In Kuwait, donor countries gathered $1.5 billion as a six-month budget, but this will not be sufficient. This is the situation Syria has reached.
Al-Hayat: Are you concerned that the disintegration process has started?
Brahimi: Hopefully it has not started yet. But if the situation is not addressed soon, the process of disintegration will be inevitable.
Al-Hayat: Do you see any possibility of things returning to normal, that is, the regime winning and staying in power? Or is this stage over?
Brahimi: Let’s not talk about where the Syrian regime or president are heading and refer to history. Water cannot flow upwards. What has happened is history. The Syria of tomorrow will be different from the Syria of today. Syria next year will be different from Syria two years ago. I have stated this in Syria and abroad: The required change must be real, and the period of patching is over. I said in February 2011 that our whole region seeks real change. I also said that any government can lead this change, and if it does not, then it would be a transgressor.
Al-Hayat: You are in contact with the countries of the region. Is Iran helping you — as an international and Arab envoy — to take the Syrian issue toward a solution, or do you see that the Iranian role in Syria is hindering your efforts?
Brahimi: This is an unfair question. Can I possibly say that Iran is a problem? I cannot say such a thing. I have visited Tehran and met with the foreign minister several times. I will meet him in the next couple of days in Munich. This is an inappropriate question. Iran is one of the countries of the region and has legitimate interests and influence. I want to benefit from Iran's interest and influence. Thus, I [meet with] Iran as I do with other regional countries. As for whether Iran is part of the solution or the problem, it is a question that should not be addressed to me.
Al-Hayat: I will ask another question which may bother you, but I hope you will accept to answer. Do you fear to be blamed one day for betting on an impossible political solution?
Brahimi: This blame already exists. It existed since day one, and won’t come in the future. The parties that are sure about winning tomorrow will certainly say: What has he come to do? The same has been said about Annan. Since the first day, it was said that I am wasting the time of the parties.
This blame exists. Those who believe in a military solution believe that those advocating a political solution are wasting time, and possibly shifting focus away from the main issue, which is the battle and how to get rid of the other party.
Al-Hayat: Is there a possibility of a US-Russian agreement? Will the UN Security Council issue a resolution? Will Lakhdar Brahimi propose a plan? Is it possible for members of the Security Council to reach some sort of consensus in the coming weeks?
Brahimi: This is what we are seeking, and we are optimistic. But whether or not this will happen is not in my hands, but in the hands of states.
Al-Hayat: What are you concerned about?
Brahimi: My main concern is the Syrian people. I have said that I do not have a private agenda, or special or general interests. My only interest is the interest of the Syrian people.
Al-Hayat: Are you for conducting an international investigation into the crimes taking place in Syria?
Brahimi: Certain actions, like the attack on the University of Aleppo, are blamed by both sides on the other. It is a heinous act with no military benefits. An international investigation must be conducted in this regard, and the two parties must cooperate to know the truth.
Al-Hayat: Do you mean that these crimes should be put before the International Criminal Court?
Brahimi: No, this is a different matter, which does not concern me. What I am saying is that about 30 bakeries were bombed, and each party denies doing it. Let’s find out who perpetrated these acts and hold them accountable.
Al-Hayat: But who would conduct an investigation without international observers?
Brahimi: In some cases, we may be able to find out the truth. Let’s at least try.
Al-Hayat: What do you want and wish for?
Brahimi: I have one thing to say, which I have unfortunately said repeatedly: Syria is in danger and in a bad situation, and the Syrian people are suffering. It’s an appeal addressed to anyone inside and outside Syria who can help to alleviate the plight of the Syrian people.