In July 2014, Staffan de Mistura, a 68-year old Italian-Swedish diplomat, was enjoying a peaceful semi-retirement on the isle of Capri when he received a telephone call from his former boss, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, offering him what might be the world’s most difficult job. De Mistura had worked under Ban as the chief of the UN missions to Afghanistan and Iraq, and he was now being asked to take up a role as the UN’s special envoy for Syria – charged with finding a peaceful resolution to one of the bloodiest and most complex wars of our time.

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