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Secretary Of State John Kerry Meets Russian Counterpart In Munich


There's a life-or-death urgency to Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting with his Russian counterpart in Munich, Germany, today. They're trying to restart the Syrian peace talks that the United Nations have put on hold. Meanwhile, Russian warplanes are bombing rebel areas in the Syrian government of Aleppo in support of the Syrian regime. Tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives. The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is also at the talks in Munich. She says a lot is at stake.

FEDERICA MOGHERINI: This is not just for the sake of diplomacy or for the sake of geopolitics. This is for the sake of human lives. We're not talking about numbers here. We're talking about people.

MCEVERS: Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are also in Munich. They're appealing for an immediate cease-fire. One of them, Salem al-Muslet, says they need the U.S. to 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. She is with us now from Munich. And Michele, what is the latest?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, these talks have gone on much longer than expected. We're told that they're finalizing their statement now. They've spent many hours trying to reach a point where they can at least agree on getting aid to desperately needed people in the Aleppo region, possibly through airdrops. And of course, the U.S. and the Europeans have also been pressing Russia to spot its bombardments and to convince the Syrian government to lift sieges on some 15 towns in Syria.

MCEVERS: And the Russians reportedly have offered a March 1 cease-fire. That's several weeks from now. And how has that gone over?

KELEMEN: It hasn't gone over well at all. I mean, it would allow them more time for this offensive in Aleppo. But you know, the Russians really have the leverage here. In between the meeting today, I ran into that Syrian opposition fellow that you just heard from, Salem al-Muslet, and he said Russia is now seen to be the strongest country, not the U.S. When I asked him if that was the mood in the room, he said, yes, Russia is everywhere. That was his quote.

MCEVERS: So let's step back for a second and talk about why Russia and the U.S. are having trouble getting on the same page here.

KELEMEN: Well, you know, Kelly, Russia has long opposed the idea of regime change in Syria. It cites, for instance, Libya and Iraq as examples of what happens when strongmen are deposed. And Moscow clearly sees Bashar al-Assad in Syria as an ally worth saving. The U.S. has always said that the war is never going to end as long as Assad's in power. And what the U.S. wants is for the warring sides to agree on a cease-fire so that they can turn their attention to the fighting against ISIS, and that's, you know, a huge task.

MCEVERS: You talked about waiting for some statements there. What can we expect next?

KELEMEN: Well, I - you know, I think they're going to talk again about how they can get these peace talks going. The opposition is really holding out for some sort of changes on the ground - a cease-fire or some humanitarian aid, something that can let them go to the table and really negotiate.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen in Munich where talks are going on between John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Thank you very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Kelly. 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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