UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A former political adviser to U.N. peace mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura sharply criticized his former boss on Thursday for his failed efforts at securing local ceasefires in the four-year-old civil war.
The United Nations, however, vigorously defended the Italian-Swedish diplomat, saying he had decades of experience and that frustration over the world's in ability to get Syria's warring parties to stop the bloodshed was being misdirected.
Former adviser Mouin Rabbani told Al Jazeera television that de Mistura was "out of his depth" and "wasn't up to the task." His comments follow U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's public demand that de Mistura "focus much more to re-launch a political process" to try an end a war that has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions.
As part of his consultations, the U.N. envoy met U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.
De Mistura had been working since October on a local truce in the northern city of Aleppo and announced on Feb. 17 the Syrian government was willing to freeze its aerial bombardment and shelling for six weeks to test the plan.
But the local truce failed to materialize.
Rabbani spoke of "the total absence of preparatory work" and said "de Mistura was very much out of his depth."
"He simply wasn't up to the task, and I don't mean this so much as a personal criticism (but) as an observation that he simply doesn't have the right background and expertise," said Rabbani, who left de Mistura's team earlier this year.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the suggestion that there had been insufficient preparatory work was incorrect.
"The U.N. does not have the luxury of just quitting," he said. "We are focused on getting a political solution but ultimately it is up to the parties directly involved to agree to sit down. And we will continue every effort to do that."
"The frustration that we all feel is sometimes being misdirected to one person, the U.N. envoy, whoever that U.N. may be," Dujarric said.
The United Nations Security Council is divided and another divisive issue is the role of Iran, which the United States accuses of backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department noted the United States was open to including Tehran in a round of Syria peace talks in 2014 had Iran embraced the 2012 "Geneva Communique," which called for a political transition but left Assad's fate ambiguous. Iran did not sign on to the communique and did not participate in the January 2014 "Geneva II" meeting.
"Now, that was then. This is obviously a different thing, and it's a U.N.-led process, so I don't want to preview what we might say going forward," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. "But in the past, we have expressed openness to it."
De Mistura has held posts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He is planning to relaunch negotiations in Geneva next week with Syrian factions and interested countries on a new round of peace talks.
De Mistura replaced Lakhdar Brahimi as mediator last year. Brahimi was appointed in 2012 to replace former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who quit after six months. Brahimi and Annan both expressed frustration at the global deadlock, particularly in the Security Council, over how to end the war.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Richard Chang and Grant McCool)