UNITED NATIONS The U.N.-Arab League mediator in the Syria conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, has agreed to stay on despite his frustration at the international deadlock that has prevented U.N. action to halt the two-year-old civil war, the United Nations said on Thursday.
A dispute over Syria between Russia, which supports and provides weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and the United States, which says Assad must go and backs the rebels, has left the U.N. Security Council paralyzed.
But in recent days Russia and the United States agreed to seek new peace talks that would bring together Assad's government and the rebels in an attempt to push for a diplomatic resolution of Syria's civil war.
It is a move the United Nations praised as long overdue.
"We were waiting for it for a long time, pushed very hard for a negotiated transition," U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters.
"We doubt whether a military victory is possible, particularly within the near future," he said. "An explosion of revenge could lead to an even worse situation. So this (U.S.-Russian initiative) is welcome. This is good news."
Eliasson said it would not be easy to bring about an end to a conflict that the United Nations says has killed at least 70,000 - a figure that U.N. diplomats and officials say is out of date and well below the likely actual death toll.
"We now of course have challenges ahead of us," he said. "Lots of work that has to be done. The Secretary-General takes it seriously and has asked the joint special representative (Brahimi) to stay on, and he has accepted to stay on."
Brahimi has repeatedly threatened to step down and recently told Ban and Security Council members he wanted to leave the job, though all tried to persuade him to remain, diplomats said.
U.N. diplomats have said that Brahimi would likely play a key role in helping to organize a conference on Syria, which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said could take place as early as this month.
The aim of the conference is to revive an agreement to create a transitional government that was reached in Geneva last June but was never put into force because it left open the question of what would happen Assad.
Russia has been a staunch ally of Assad, blocking U.N. sanctions against Syria and supplying the government with arms. Although the United States has said Assad must leave power, Kerry said the decision on who takes part in any transitional government should be left to the Syrians.
U.N. diplomats said a new conference could also be held in Geneva though other venues were possible.
Envoys said there are two main challenges to reviving the Geneva agreement. The first is moving from a military stalemate to what the Geneva communiqué called for, namely a political transition.
The second involves the question of Assad. Diplomats say that the U.S.-Russian disagreement over whether Assad and his family should be barred from any transitional government in Syria has not been resolved.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Vicki Allen)