London, Washington DC, Tunis and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ten days after the resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi as UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, the search for a successor continues in the corridors of the UN in New York.
Informed Arab diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants a candidate from Morocco, the country which remains on good terms with all parties involved in the Syrian crisis, in order to guarantee Arab and international agreement on the envoy.
However, another informed source in Rabat told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this is unlikely, as there is a leaning towards the selection of a Western figure to avoid Arab–Arab sensitivities.” The source said the figure most likely to be chosen was Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General for Political Affairs.
Meanwhile, observers said the proposal of a Moroccan candidate would receive Arab and international backing, due to Morocco’s excellent links with all parties related to the Syrian issue, including Saudi Arabia, the US, the EU, as well as Russia and China.
Former Moroccan foreign minister Mohamed Benaissa was nominated by the heads of the UN and Arab League for the same task in 2012.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby called Benaissa on February 20, 2012 to inform him of his and Ban Ki-moon’s intention to appoint him as their envoy to Syria, but Benaissa declined the offer “for special family circumstances.” Former UN chief Kofi Annan was given the job two days later.
Another candidate put forward for the job as Syrian envoy was Tunisia’s Kamel Morjane, former foreign minister during the rule of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
Morjane told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that he was approached about taking the job about a month ago, and that he was “willing to assume this difficult task.” However, he added that “so far, I have not received an official offer from the UN.”
Morjane said the task was “almost impossible because of the complications of the Syrian issue,” adding that “the chances of the success of this task—which honors Tunisian and Arab diplomacy—are not unattainable.” He said he had previously represented the UN chief as special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999 and that these tough UN tasks were not new to him.
Meanwhile, Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt from a diplomatic source in New York that Morjane recently visited the US city to discuss the UN offer and had met with Eliasson, but that nothing significant was achieved.
Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition’s envoy to Washington, Najib Al-Ghadban, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday the search for a replacement for Brahimi would take a long time.
He said: “The issue is not just about nominating a candidate; it is also about consultations and discussions about the mechanisms to redefine the mission of the next envoy, and whether he will be a joint UN and Arab League envoy, or just a representative of the UN.”
Ghadban said: “The Russians have called for a swift appointment of a successor for Brahimi but the American response, according to my information, was that the task needed considerable time.” He reiterated that the priority today was to “redefine the tasks of the UN and Arab envoy.”
Meanwhile, a member of the Coalition’s political bureau, Ahmed Ramadan, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The issue is not about the identity of Brahimi’s successor; it is about the general political climate which has not even reached the point of launching the political process.”
Ramadan said: “The regional and international conditions are not favorable yet because the Syrian regime, supported by its allies, refuses to engage in any political solution based on Geneva I and Geneva II articles.”
Another name which has been discussed for the task is former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, though he has ruled himself out on the grounds that he does not speak Arabic.
Former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was also mentioned, as well as former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos. However, a source close to Moratinos told Asharq Al-Awsat the Spanish diplomat had not been approached about replacing Brahimi.
Former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is being nominated for a number of leading positions in Egypt, has also been considered as a candidate to follow Brahimi.