GENEVA – International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Friday that Russia seems as determined as the United States to end Syria's civil war, but that he doesn't expect a political solution to emerge anytime soon.
Brahimi, who is the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, spent the day at the United Nations' European headquarters meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
"We are all very, very deeply aware of the immense suffering of the Syrian people, which has gone for far too long. We all stressed the need for a speedy end to the bloodshed, to the destruction and all forms of violence in Syria. We stressed again that in our view, there was no military solution to this conflict," Brahimi told reporters.
But he acknowledged that "if you are asking me whether a solution is around the corner, I am not sure that is the case. What I am certain of is that there is an absolute necessity for people to continue to work for such a peaceful solution, and that it is the wider international community, especially members of the Security Council, that can really create the opening that is necessary to start effectively solving the problem."
Brahimi's five hours of talks with Bogdanov and Burns on Friday ended without any apparent deal. It was Brahimi's second meeting in as many months with Bogdanov and Burns, who each left without making any public comments. In December, Brahimi also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss Syria.
At the Security Council, the most powerful arm of the United Nations, Russia has joined China in blocking several resolutions aimed at pressuring Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Moscow says it is not propping up his regime. Recently, top Russian officials have signaled they are resigned to Assad eventually losing power.
Brahimi defended Moscow's role.
"I am absolutely certain that the Russians are as preoccupied as I am, as preoccupied as the Americans are, by the bad situation that exists in Syria and its continuing deterioration, and I am absolutely certain that they would like to contribute to its solution," he said.
Brahimi, who didn't comment on China's response to Syria's civil war, said the foundation for a political solution continues to be the agreement reached among major powers in Geneva in June, which called for creation of a new governing body for Syria that would "exercise full executive powers" during an unspecified transition period.
"And we agreed that full executive powers means all the powers of state," Brahimi said of Friday's discussions. "I will continue to engage all Syrian parties as well as other stakeholders in the region and internationally."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an interview with the Associated Press that he was pleased that Brahimi convened the meeting and "I'm also encouraged that they are trying to bridge the gap on their differences, particularly how this transitional executive body will operate."
"I know that there was some common understanding that this transitional executive power means all the powers of state," he said. "I certainly hope that they will continue to discuss this matter."
"It was not the breakthrough — but it is progress," Ban said.
He said he spoke to Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby after the meeting and said Brahimi will come to New York later this month for talks with U.N. officials and the Security Council.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters "it's hard to imagine how you would have a transitional government with Assad still part of it."
The conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against Assad's family dynasty, which has ruled the country for four decades, but the intense crackdown on the uprising and armed rebel opposition soon became a civil war.
"According to our progress today, we said that this transitional government that will be in charge during the transitional period only. It is not a government that will stay for a long time. It will direct the transitional period that will end with the holding of the elections that will be agreed upon. During this transitional period, the transitional government has to enjoy complete powers and these complete powers are those of the whole state," Brahimi said.
The U.N. says at least 60,000 people have been killed in the war and millions have fled their homes. So far, all international efforts to end the fighting have failed. Syria has complained that Brahimi exhibited "flagrant bias" after he called for real, not cosmetic, change in Syria and said Assad was resisting the aspirations of his people.
Brahimi took the criticism in stride. "I saw the statement by the Syrian government. They expressed their point of view, but at the same time they said that they are ready to continue cooperating with me," he said.
He clarified his stance further.
"I said the Syrians are saying 40 years is enough — the Syrians," he said. "I said the Syrian people are saying that 40 years is enough. And I never said that there will be no place for members of the government. I never said that."
The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that it is concerned about the severe winter conditions faced by about 612,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, and there has been no letup in the flow of thousands of people a day across the borders.
"Many of those arriving have been barefoot, with their clothing soaked, and covered in mud and snow," agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva, referring to new refugee arrivals in Jordan.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.