UNITED NATIONS — The new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria hinted Friday at the immense challenges he faces trying to negotiate an end to that country's civil war amid rapidly escalating violence, saying the mission left him "flattered, humbled and scared."
Lakhdar Brahimi, a 78-year-old veteran Algerian diplomat and former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, made his comments alongside Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in his first public appearance at the United Nations since accepting the job abandoned by Kofi Annan earlier this month.
“Secretary-General, when you called me I told you that I was honored, flattered, humbled and scared, and I am still in that frame of mind,” Brahimi said during a photo opportunity where he did not take questions.
The Syrian people will be “our first masters,” he added. “We will consider their interests above and before everything else.”
Ban said Brahimi’s “extraordinary talent and expertise” will be needed for the crucial task of bringing peace and stability to Syria and promoting human rights there.
Brahimi had needed at least a week to deliberate before finally accepting the job last Friday.
Gerard Araud, the French U.N. ambassador and current Security Council president, has called the special envoy post something of an “impossible mission” and said he could understand why someone would take their time before deciding to take it.
Brahimi arrived here Thursday for a week of meetings with senior officials. He met with Araud and will soon hold an informal meeting with Security Council members, Araud’s spokesman said.
Brahimi, who will be based at U.N. headquarters in New York when his job starts Sept. 1, plans next to go to Cairo for meetings with the Arab League.
A frustrated Annan announced his resignation after failing to broker a cease-fire despite developing a six-point peace plan which the Syrian government initially agreed to but then failed to implement.
Activists say about 20,000 people have been killed since March 2011.
The last of the U.N. military observers left Damascus on Thursday. The unarmed observers, who had been mostly confined to their hotels since June, were part of Annan’s failed plan.
In Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad said Thursday that Syrian officials were “looking forward” to working with Brahimi.
Brahimi’s long diplomatic career has taken him to several Arab and Islamic countries, including Lebanon, where he helped negotiate the end of that country’s civil war as an Arab League envoy. After serving as Algeria’s foreign minister, he worked for the U.N. in countries such as Haiti, Yemen, Sudan and South Africa before he retired in 2005.
On Sunday, Brahimi told The Associated Press that his first task will be to overcome the divisions in the Security Council that undermined Annan’s efforts. Russia and China have used their veto power three times to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against President Bashar Assad’s regime that could have led to sanctions.
Brahimi said the Security Council must speak “with a unified voice” in order for his mission to succeed. He said Annan’s mission failed “because the international community was not as supportive as he needed them to be.”
He said military intervention “is not supported by anybody.”
“I’m a peacemaker. By definition, if I start speaking about military intervention, that is recognizing a failure, not a personal failure but a failure of the peace process,” Brahimi said.
France, however, signaled Thursday that it was prepared to take part in enforcing a partial no-fly zone over Syria, as Assad’s embattled regime expands a major offensive against rebels in Damascus and surrounding areas.