* France envoy calls Brahimi's task "impossible mission"
* Annan frustrated by deadlock in U.N. Security Council
* Lack of interest scuttles Syria meeting in New York
The United Nations on Friday confirmed that veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi will replace former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the international mediator on Syria as the 17-month-old conflict slides deeper into civil war.
"The Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi's willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council," said U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
The announcement confirmed what diplomats told Reuters on Thursday.
Brahimi, who hesitated for days to accept a job that France's U.N. envoy Gerard Araud called an "impossible mission," will have a new title, Joint Special Representative for Syria. Diplomats said the change was to distance himself from Annan.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby back his appointment, del Buey said. Diplomats said all Security Council members support Brahimi.
"Diplomacy to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria remains a top priority for the United Nations," del Buey said.
"More fighting and militarization will only exacerbate the suffering and make more difficult the path to a peaceful resolution of the crisis which would lead to a political transition in accordance with the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he said.
U.N. officials told Reuters that Brahimi was expected to arrive in New York next week to meet with Ban and discuss plans for a fresh approach to the Syria conflict, which the United Nations says has killed over 18,000 people.
Del Buey said Ban thanked Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who accepted the job of Joint Special Envoy for Syria six months ago, "for his selfless efforts and contributions to the march for peace in Syria."
Annan, who is stepping down at the end of this month, has said his Syria peace plan was hampered by a divided U.N. Security Council.
SEEKING REGIME CHANGE?
Annan was especially frustrated by the deadlock between the five permanent council members. Russia, backed by China, repeatedly vetoed Western- and Arab-backed resolutions that criticized the Syrian government and threatened it with sanctions, saying the United States, Europe and Gulf Arabs were seeking regime change.
The Western powers have in turn accused Russia, Syria's top arms supplier and staunch ally, of propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. They have also accused Syria's ally Iran of providing military aid to Assad.
The United States, envoys say, saw little point in replacing Annan and has stepped up non-lethal support to the rebels.
Brahimi, 78, has served as a U.N. special envoy 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.
The announcement about Brahimi was made as U.N. observers in Syria prepare to withdraw due to the violence.
Last week Brahimi made clear he wanted an end to the international deadlock on Syria. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed that on Friday, saying Security Council consensus was needed for Brahimi to succeed.
"The U.N. Security Council and regional states must unite to ensure that a political transition can take place as soon as possible," Brahimi said last week. "World leaders cannot remain divided any longer, over and above their cries."
Separately, Russia canceled a meeting on Friday of the permanent council members and key Middle Eastern nations on Syria, the so-called Syria "Action Group," after most participants failed to confirm attendance, U.N. diplomats said.
"Almost no one confirmed attendance, not the Americans, Europeans, Arabs," one diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "There wasn't much interest in this meeting."
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin announced plans to hold the meeting on Thursday of Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and others to agree to "appeal to all the parties of the Syrian conflict that they end the violence as soon as possible."
The meeting in New York was postponed at the request of some of the group's members, a spokesman for the Russian U.N. mission said.
Other diplomats said the meeting of the Action Group was unlikely to take place at all.
Last month the group held a ministerial-level meeting in Geneva, at which participants reiterated their commitment to Annan's six-point peace plan aimed at securing a truce, providing humanitarian aid access and launching talks on a political transition in Syria. Iran and Saudi Arabia were not invited to attend.