Lakhdar Brahimi: A master of patience

February 01, 2014 - 1:34:10 am

UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi gestures during a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva yesterday.

GENEVA: Despite the slim pickings from a week of UN-brokered peace talks between Syria’s warring sides, getting them to the table at all was a huge feat in itself.

But for international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, that was all in a day’s work in a job that requires patience, persistence, strong will and fine-tuned diplomacy.

The 80-year-old Algerian has long been one of the most respected envoys in the world, called in when the mission seems impossible.

“I’m not disappointed, because I did not expect any result this first time,” he said of the glacial pace of talks this week.

Saying that his dearest hope was end the brutal war, he warns that there is no “magic wand”.

“I know that this will not happen in a day, or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or next week,” he told reporters.

With tensions aplenty behind closed doors in the Geneva talks, Brahimi has kept his sense of humour. “At this rate, we’ll need 20 years. You’d better hurry up, as I won’t be around in 20 years,” he purportedly told delegates.

He has not been afraid to drop the smiles when, as alleged, a regime delegate accused him of being biased because he is a Sunni Muslim like most of Syria’s rebels, tersely calling the individual to order. The Geneva talks marks the biggest international push so far to end a war that has cost more than 130,000 lives and driven millions from their homes.

They were organised after intensive shuttle diplomacy by Brahimi in the Middle East and the capitals of world powers, notably Washington, which backs the opposition, and Moscow, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.Brahimi wears two hats, as the Syria envoy of the UN and the Arab League. As a veteran of Algeria’s war of independence against colonial ruler France over five decades ago, and later a foreign minister, he carries weight in the Middle East. “The fact that he speaks Arabic, the fact that he understands the culture, must play a role,” Syrian opposition spokeswoman Rafif Jouejati said.

He also works to ensure that all players get a hearing, however irreconcilable their views, acting as a conduit between them.

“Our delegation has expressed their gratitude to Mr Brahimi for facilitating the discussion and for giving us an opportunity in the framework of Geneva II, giving us the opportunity to present the vision of a future Syria to the dictator,” said Jouejati.

Brahimi, also fluent in French and English, earned his spurs in 1989 by helping the Arab League broker the deal that ended Lebanon’s 15-years civil war. He was UN envoy to South Africa during 1994’s watershed elections that saw Nelson Mandela win office, then moved on to civil war-torn Yemen.AFP

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