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Obama, Putin Continue Effort To Pause Fighting In Syria


The U.S. and Russia are trying to persuade the warring sides in Syria to stop fighting and start talking, so the two countries have set a goal for a truce to start Saturday. But one of the problems is that it doesn't cover U.S. and Russian military operations against terrorist groups in Syria, and the two world powers do not agree on the definition of a terrorist group. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: To get a sense of just how hard it will be to actually stop the fighting in Syria, you only have to sift through the differing accounts of President Obama's telephone call with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. From the U.S. side, White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama stressed the need for the Syrian regime and the armed opposition to agree on the terms of a truce to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and to focus on defeating ISIS.


JOSH EARNEST: This is a moment of opportunity, and it will require all of the parties who signed onto this document to follow through on the commitments that they've made.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has been trying to persuade Russia to focus attacks on ISIS and stop bombing moderate rebels in places like Aleppo, but Russia says everyone it's targeting are terrorists. After he got off the phone with Obama, Russian President Putin went on television to explain how this is supposed to work.


VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: He says Russian and American military officials will go over maps to decide which areas are controlled by groups that agree to the truce, and those areas won't be targeted in airstrikes. Russia will continue to hit those it considers terrorists, though. The U.S. and Russia are setting up a communications hotline. Any party can report violations. All this is supposed to lead to a truce and a return to peace talks. But for now, the fighting continues. The head of a U.N. panel investigating war crimes in Syria, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told reporters in New York today that the carnage has to come to an end.


PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO: As the Syria conflict enters its sixth year - sixth year - its population continues to be subjected to the most indescribable sufferings.

KELEMEN: While his report blames all sides for war crimes, it says airstrikes by the regime and its supporters are destroying hospitals and schools and uprooting more civilians. And without naming them, the report says countries that are ostensibly pushing for a peaceful solution continue to feed the military escalation. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. 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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