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Kerry, Lavrov Agree On Need For Cease-Fire In Syria


There's has been a life-or-death urgency to Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting today with his Russian counterpart in Munich, Germany. They're trying to restart the Syrian peace talks that the United Nations put on hold. The two men now say they have agree to try to implement a cease-fire and allow in humanitarian aid, but there is serious doubt about whether any of this will happen. These talks come as Russian warplanes have been bombing rebel areas in the Syrian city of Aleppo in support of the Syrian regime. Tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives.


JOHN KERRY: Putting an end to the violence and the bloodshed is obviously essential, as is providing Syrians, who are starving, the humanitarian aid that they desperately need.


That's Secretary Kerry. Syrian opponents of President Bashar al-Assad are also in Munich. One of them, Salem al-Muslet, said earlier today that Syrians need the U.S. help.

SALEM AL-MUSLET: America should take serious steps now because if we wait another week or another month, we'll lose more families. We'll lose more children and nobody except that.

MCEVERS: Salem al-Muslet spoke to NPR's Michele Kelemen who joins us now from Munich. Michele, what's the latest?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, after a very long day here, Ari, Secretary Kerry came out saying that they've made progress that has the potential - and he stressed that word - the potential to improve the situation on the ground. For one, they agreed to expand and accelerate the delivery of aid, especially to besieged cities in Syria. And by the way, this was already in a U.N. Security Council resolution, so they've agreed to do this again.

They've also called for a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in one week's time. That does not cover, though, areas controlled by ISIS or other terrorist groups like the al-Nusra Front. And everyone agreed to get back to the negotiating table to talk about a political settlement.

SHAPIRO: Does it seem like there is real agreement here between the U.S. and Russia?

KELEMEN: Well, that's always the question. I mean, they do say different things and stress different things every time I've heard them come out of something like this. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, came out talking a lot more about the towns that are besieged by the rebels rather than the ones besieged by the Syrian government. He defended his country's action in Aleppo. He says Russia is going after terrorists there, and he talked about how complicated it's going to be to get a ceasefire because there are so many different factions and so many international stakeholders.

You know, Ari, I was struck by one thing that Secretary Kerry said tonight. He said that everyone understands there's no way of getting to a ceasefire and getting humanitarian access without working with Russia. So Russia was really the key player here tonight.

SHAPIRO: But why does it seem that the U.S. and Russia are having so much trouble getting on the same page?

KELEMEN: It's been from the start. Russia has long opposed this idea of regime change in Syria. Lavrov often cites, as he did again tonight, the cases of Libya and Iraq, where, you know, you see what happens when a strongman is deposed. And Moscow clearly sees Bashar al-Assad as an ally worth saving.

The U.S., on the other hand, says that the war is never going to end as long as Assad is in power. That's what these negotiations - these eventual political negotiations are going to talk about.

SHAPIRO: What can we expect next, Michele?

KELEMEN: Well, they're promising to set up various taskforces to work on humanitarian access, for instance. Russia's also holding up the possibility of joint humanitarian operation. And they hope that what they agreed to today will persuade the rebels - the Syrian opposition to go to the negotiating table with Assad. I mean, that's what this is really about - to get to a political negotiation that keeps everyone focused instead of fighting each other to fighting ISIS. That's what Secretary Kerry's been working on here.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen speaking with us from Munich. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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