* Lakhdar Brahimi tipped as top candidate to replace Annan
* U.N. observer mission in Syria due to expire on Sunday
* Security Council to be briefed on Syria on Thursday
* U.N. chief says alternative presence needed in Syria
By Stephanie Nebehay and Michelle Nichols
GENEVA/UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 The Syrian
government has consented to the idea of Algerian diplomat
Lakhdar Brahimi replacing Kofi Annan as the U.N.-Arab League
mediator in the Syria conflict, though Brahimi has yet to accept
or reject the post, Annan's spokesman said on Tuesday.
Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize
laureate, announced he would step down on Aug. 31 because he was
not able to carry out his job with the U.N. Security Council's
veto powers hopelessly divided and deadlocked.
Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters that the Syrian
government would accept Brahimi as Annan's replacement, though
the veteran Algerian diplomat "hasn't said yes or no."
Fawzi's comments appeared to confirm what diplomats told
Reuters last week -- that Brahimi was tipped to replace Annan.
Council diplomats told Reuters that Brahimi expressed
reservations about the job, telling U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby that he was
concerned about the deadlock on the Security Council and wanted
"strong support" from the 15-nation body.
Brahimi issued a public statement last week saying the
council and regional states "must unite to ensure that a
political transition can take place as soon as possible."
Russia, with the aid of China, has vetoed three resolutions
criticizing and threatening sanctions against Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad's government for its 17-month attempt to crush
an increasingly militant opposition with military force, heavy
weapons and aerial assaults.
The United States, which has stepped up non-lethal support
to the rebels, saw little point in replacing Annan, given
Russia's staunch opposition to sanctions, diplomats said. Qatar
and Saudi Arabia are arming the rebels, diplomats say, and
voiced little support for Annan's peace efforts.
MORIBUND PEACE PLAN
U.N. officials said Ban hoped to make an announcement about
Annan's successor in the coming days, whether or not it would be
Brahimi who takes over.
Brahimi, 78, has served as a U.N. special envoy in a series
of challenging circumstances, including in Iraq after the U.S.
invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein; in Afghanistan both before
and after the end of Taliban rule; and in South Africa as it
emerged from the apartheid era.
Other candidates, diplomats said, include former European
Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana of Spain, former
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, former U.N.
special envoy to Libya and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelilah
al-Khatib and Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura.
Whoever replaces Annan will inherit his moribund six-point
peace plan, which both the rebels and government had initially
embraced but is now in tatters, with the violence escalating
dramatically in recent weeks as the government steps up its
onslaught to wipe out rebel territorial gains.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to allow the mandate
of a U.N. observer mission in Syria to expire on Sunday because
violence there has not receded enough to allow it to function.
Russia has called for the monitors to remain in Syria but the
United States has made its opposition clear.
The Security Council said last month it would only renew the
mandate of the mission, which was deployed in April to monitor a
truce that never took hold, if the world body confirmed a
"cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the
level of violence by all sides sufficient" for it to operate.
In an Aug. 10 letter to the Security Council Ban said this
has "not been achieved" and the mission, known as UNSMIS, "has
not been able to exercise its key functions of monitoring the
cessation of violence." The mandate expires Aug. 19.
The mission's initial 300 unarmed observers, whose role has
been to monitor a failed April 12 ceasefire, suspended their
activity on June 16 because of increased risk from rising
violence. There are also over 70 civilian staff working on a
political solution and monitoring human rights violations.
The Security Council is due to be briefed on Syria on
Thursday and diplomats said that if UNSMIS is allowed to expire,
Ban would not need a new resolution from the deadlocked Security
Council in order to maintain a political and humanitarian
presence in the country.
"The United Nations humanitarian agencies will remain
active, even if the mandate of UNSMIS expires," Ban said, adding
that it was vital for world body to maintain some kind of
presence in Syria beyond the aid work.