The United Nations yesterday confirmed that veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi would become the new international mediator on Syria, as the 17-month-old conflict slid deeper into civil war and refugees fled to Turkey in increasing numbers.
President Bashar al-Assad's forces have turned increasingly to air power to hold back lightly armed rebels in the capital Damascus and Aleppo, a northern commercial hub. More than 18 000 people have died and some 170 000 have fled the country as a result of the fighting, according to the UN.
Brahimi, who hesitated for days to accept a job that France's U.N. envoy Gerard Araud called an "impossible mission," will replace former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is stepping down at the end of the month.
"The (UN) Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi's willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council," UN spokesperson Eduardo del Buey said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby back Brahimi's appointment, said del Buey, who added that achieving a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis remained a top priority for the United Nations.
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest described Brahimi as "a capable and seasoned diplomat," though he said the United States wanted to know more about his UN mandate.
"Our position and our view about the solution to this problem hasn't changed - that it's time for President Assad to step down and to allow this political transition to move forward."
Diplomats said all Security Council members supported Brahimi. The announcement confirmed what diplomats told reporters on Thursday.
Brahimi will have a new title - Joint Special Representative for Syria. Diplomats said the change was to distance him from Annan, who had complained that his Syria peace plan was hampered by a divided Security Council.
Diplomats said all Security Council members supported Brahimi.
UN officials told Reuters that Brahimi was expected to arrive in New York next week to meet with Ban and discuss plans for a fresh approach to Syria. In an interview with France 24 television, Brahimi said he would soon meet with the Security Council.
"We are going to discuss very seriously how they can help," he said. "They are asking me to do this job. If they don't support me, there is no job. They are divided, but surely they can unite on something like this and I hope they will." Security Council members Russia and China are resisting Western efforts to step up pressure on Assad to quit and are unwilling to give even an amber light for military intervention -- not that the United States and its allies have shown any appetite for overt action in Syria.
Washington, however, has stepped up non-lethal support to the rebels.