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On Al Nusra, Brahimi Says Extremism is Underestimated, As UN Pre-Clears Media

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 19 -- When Lakhdar Brahimi emerged Friday after three hours with the UN Security Council, he announced he was not resigning. Inner City Press asked him about his relationship with the Arab League, and why he hadn't gone to its Doha summit in late March (when Syria's seat was given to the opposition.)

This Brahimi did not answer, at least not in English. But when Inner City Press asked him about the Al Nusra Front links with or loyalty to Al Qaeda, he stopped and answered at some length.

He said that extremism is under-estimated. He said that it shows the need to solve Syria's problems, before extremism flourishes more.

He also said he sees no need for a “Brahimi plan,” only a “Syrian plan.” Transcript below.

Afterward, Inner City Press spoke with Algeria's Permanent Representative, who said not only did his country abstain and express reservations at the Arab League giving Syria's seat to the opposition, but he's said the same thing here at the UN in New York, on the pending General Assembly resolution drafted by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others.

(Inner City Press first reported on the resolution, and put online the drafts, here.)

  Before Brahimi even came out to speak, the spokesman of the Department of Political Affairs played, well, politics. He announced that he had already decided which media would get questions, and in what order.

  Before arriving at this list, he had not asked all UN accredited media, or even all of those present. So how did he decide?

  He made a point of calling on Voice of America, which is run* by the US State Department, where DPA chief Jeffrey Feltman used to work. He also called on Reuters, which asked about Brahimi agreeing to stay on for three months: "Why did you decide to say on for only three months?"

  Brahimi asked, Who told you that?

  Good question. This was considered the big scoop, and Brahimi himself said, this is the first I hear about it.

  But the UN trying to pre-select the media that can ask questions is inappropriate. Inner City Press, and the new Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA, will have more on this. Watch this site.

* - Footnote: That Voice of America is run by the US State Department was made clear to us last year, through ongoing Freedom of Information Act requests to its Broadcasting Board of Governors which revealed that when VOA asked the UN to review the accreditation of Inner City Press out, VOA said it had the support of Agence France Presse and Reuters. It is in the context that DPA's pre-screening is particularly inappropriate. Now other FOIA requests are pending: watch this site.

Fast transcript by a friend on Inner City Press:

I just briefed the council.  The way the UN works these days you already know what I've said. I think I have probably said practically the same things I've said every time. Situation is extremely bad and we need action from the council.  Last time, inaudible made some very precise suggestions to the council. I have repeated the this time. I have also indicated the opposition and the government have got to accept to come to negotiations and both sides have got to accept that this negotiations are necessary. 

Why have you only decided to stay on for 3 more months?

 I have not resigned. Every day I wake up, I think I should resign. But I haven't so far. One day, perhaps I will resign and you are sure you will find out. But for the moment I have not resigned. And it is the first time that I hear that I'm staying for 3 months or less or more. There is no foundation for any of that.

Any other questions about Syria rather than about myself? Syria is important, not me.

To what extent have you been asked by the SG in trying to persuade the Syrian government to allow the chemical weapons team to enter?
I haven't been asked to do that.

On Arab League do you have any opinion as to whether it's helpful or not that the Arab League officially recognized the Syrian opposition?
Everybody in the Arab league tells me it isn't.

You say people in the Arab League tell you it isn't, but how from your point as a facilitator how has it impacted you, undermining your position? Previously you said you've had no plan, do you have a plan? What will it take for a break through?

I have said to the council that at the beginning I used to say that I had no plan because I didn't know enough. Now I know a great deal about Syria. And now I think there is no need for a Brahimi plan. There is a need for a Syrian plan. I tried to do that through discussions with the Syrians, both sides and through discussions with the Security Council and its members and especially the Americans and the Russians. With the Syrians, I got nowhere. With the Security Council, the Americans and the Russians, we made some progress but it was far too little. I'm very happy the Russians and the Americans are talking to one another.  I'm very happy that form the discussions we've just heard the Security Council is very, very much now aware that this is an extremely serious problem as a matter of fact, the most serious crisis. And if they really believe there are in charge of looking at the peace and security, there is no time for them to loose to really take this question more seriously have until now.

With Al-Nousra having ties or links to Al Qaeda, how does it change your work?

It doesn't change my work. What I have said is that this is serious. That every body had underestimated the importance of extremism and that the way to fight or protect Syria and the rest of the world from extremism is once again to solve the problem. When a problem is so, in a situation like the Syrian problem is, more violence, more destructions, society is being broken.  In a situation like this, extremism flourishes. So if you want extremism to stop flourishing, there is only one way of doing it. That is genuinely helping bring this war to an end.

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