Envoy defends Assad's place – for now

An objective stance after Kofi Annan called for regime's end

David D. Kirkpatrick and Rick Gladstone / New York Times News Service /

BEIRUT — Rebels set off two bombs among a cluster of military headquarters buildings in the Syrian capital Damascus on Sunday, as the new United Nations envoy for Syria pointedly refused to call for President Bashar Assad to give up power.

“It is too early to speak about who should go and who should stay,” the new envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the pan-Arab news network Al-Jazeera on the eve of his first visit to Damascus since taking up the post. “Mr. Assad is there, and is the president of the present government.”

The previous envoy, Kofi Annan, who resigned in frustration last month, had joined Western leaders in calling for Assad’s exit as a prerequisite to peace.

Inside Syria, the Assad government and the armed opposition demonstrated the tenacity, violence and increasing cunning that has made the prospect of resolving the conflict seem remote.

The dual bombings were the second rebel strikes in less than six weeks to land deep within the most secure corridors of the Assad government’s military machine. A bombing on July 18 killed Assad’s brother-in-law and two other top commanders of the crackdown.

Syrian state media said Sunday that four people were injured in the blasts, but a spokesman for the rebel brigade that claimed responsibility for the bombings said the toll was higher. He insisted in a telephone interview that more than a dozen victims were taken by stretcher to the hospitals of the Syrian elite.

While the fighting continued, Brahimi, a veteran diplomat for Algeria and the U.N., reintroduced himself to the Arab world in interviews over the weekend with Al-Jazeera and a rival news network, Al-Arabiya. “Change is necessary, indispensable, unavoidable,” he told Al-Jazeera. But he said it was too soon to talk about the form of that change, its stages, or where it might leave Assad.

Brahimi noted that his predecessor, Annan, had spoken directly with Assad, just as he intends to do.

“I call on parties inside Syria to halt the fighting,” Brahimi said. “Undoubtedly, this call is primarily directed to the government. More than others, it is the duty of governments — under any circumstances and anywhere, not just in Syria — to ensure security and stability for their people.”