Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura will be the new UN mediator for Syria, taking on the Herculean task of finding a political solution to the devastating civil war, diplomats say.
De Mistura is set to replace Lakhdar Brahimi, who resigned in May after two rounds of peace talks yielded no concrete results and as the conflict escalated into a fourth year, killing more than 162,000 people.
But although Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been expected to announce de Mistura’s appointment on Wednesday, he wrapped up a news conference on the Middle East without doing so.
“I’m going to make an announcement very soon but not today,” he told reporters when questioned about the delay.
Although diplomats said Security Council members had already been informed, Ban said further consultations were necessary.
“We need to get everybody on board,” said Ban. “It’s very close.”
De Mistura would represent the United Nations and have a yet-unnamed Arab deputy, one diplomat said.
Brahimi, a well-respected and seasoned Algerian diplomat with extensive mediation experience, served as joint representative of both the United Nations and Arab League to Syria.
Ban warned last month that the new mediator would not have a magic wand to resolve the conflict and de Mistura now looks set to inherit a job many diplomats consider flat-out impossible.
Born in Sweden, the 67-year-old holds Italian-Swedish nationality. He is a former deputy Italian foreign minister and has worked for the United Nations for more than three decades.
He was UN special representative to Iraq from 2007-2009 and special representative to Afghanistan from 2010-2011.
De Mistura has also held UN posts in Somalia, Sudan and the Balkans, and was a deputy director at the UN World Food Program in 2009-10.
He speaks six languages, including English, French and German. His mastery of Arabic has been described by the UN as colloquial.
The UN approach focused on establishing a transitional government, but the strategy has hit an impasse, not least with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad re-elected in June.
– Worsening humanitarian crisis –
It took all the considerable skills of Brahimi, who served as the envoy from August 2012 until May 2014, to coax Assad and Syria’s fractious opposition to the negotiating table in Geneva.
But talks broke down after only two rounds in January and February amid bitter recriminations.
Brahimi’s own predecessor, former UN chief Kofi Annan, stepped down after barely six months, frustrated by international divisions over Syria.
Assad’s re-election was heavily criticized by Western powers and the conflict has spread to Iraq, where violent extremists have declared an Islamic caliphate incorporating territory in both countries.
The United Nations says 10.8 million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian aid — nearly half of Syria’s population of 22 million — including 6.6 million children.
There are 2.9 million Syrian refugees posing a drain on meager resources in neighboring countries and inside Syria, 4.7 million people are in areas “difficult or impossible” to reach.
All but paralyzing the international response have been deep animosity on the Security Council between the Western powers and Russia, a staunch defender of its ally in Damascus.
On June 20, Ban outlined a six-point agenda demanding an immediate end to the violence, unfettered humanitarian access and a principled — and united — international response.
He also urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo in a rallying cry for action to end the civil war.
Ban spent considerable time searching for a new mediator, hoping for someone competent but also acceptable to the main players.
A number of names had circulated in connection with the job, including former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and Sigrid Kaag, who oversaw the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons, one of the few international successes to emerge from the crisis.