UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Veteran Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura has been chosen by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to replace Lakhdar Brahimi as the international point man on Syria, U.N. diplomats said Wednesday.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an expected announcement, said de Mistura will solely be the United Nations envoy — not the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy as Brahimi was — and will have an Arab deputy.
Ban told reporters late Wednesday that an announcement is "very close" but he needed "to get everybody on board." The diplomats said they expect de Mistura to be officially named on Thursday.
Brahimi resigned May 31 after nearly two years of failed efforts to end Syria's worsening civil war. He followed in the footsteps of his longtime friend, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, who resigned from the same job in August 2012 after failing to broker a cease-fire as the country descended into war.
Ban cast some blame on Syria's rebels but was especially critical of President Bashar Assad's government, the divided U.N. Security Council and feuding influential nations for failing to help Brahimi achieve a peace agreement.
That all leaves de Mistura facing an immense challenge as he tries to succeed where Brahimi and Annan failed.
With the Syrian government on the offensive, rebel divisions deepening, and the takeover of areas near the Iraqi border by the Islamic State extremist group, de Mistura will have a tough time getting the warring parties to the peace table.
As the U.N. envoy, de Mistura will have a somewhat easier task than his predecessors because he will have only one boss — the U.N. secretary-general — not the deeply divided Arab League as well, which diplomats say created difficulties for both Annan and Brahimi.
Born in Stockholm, de Mistura had a 40-year career with the United Nations and recently served as deputy foreign minister in the Italian government headed by Mario Monti, who was also rumored to be a candidate to replace Brahimi.
De Mistura worked for various U.N. agencies and served as the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan in 2010-11 and in Iraq from 2007-09, and as the secretary-general's personal representative for southern Lebanon from 2001-04.
In May, De Mistura was appointed president of the board of governors for the European Institute of Peace, an independent Brussels-based foundation that conducts mediation and informal dialogue to promote the global peace agenda of the European Union.
De Mistura, 67, speaks seven languages including colloquial Arabic, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry.