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Syrian Government Advances With Heavy Russian Air Support


No one thought the Syrian peace talks in Geneva this week would be easy. But when they were suspended just two days after they began, it underscored just how enormous a task it will be to bring peace to Syria or even a modest improvement in daily life there. We're going to talk about the civil war in Syria now with someone who knows the subject all too well. Robert Ford was the last U.S. ambassador there. When the regime's response to peaceful protest turned violent, Ford was forced to leave the country. Ambassador Ford, good morning.

ROBERT FORD: Good morning.

KELLY: Why do you think the talks in Geneva this week collapsed so quickly? And is collapsed the right word?

FORD: Well, the United Nations envoy has said that they are suspended. But there is a fundamental problem, which is that neither side, neither the Syrian government on the one hand nor the Syrian opposition on the other hand, is prepared now to make major confession at a negotiating table. And without major confessions from both sides, it will be impossible to get a political deal to resolve the conflict.

KELLY: I was struck by one of the dispatches out of Geneva this week, which was describing - the government and the opposition delegates seem to be coming from different planets, witnessing different wars. How do you bridge that?

FORD: The only possible way to bridge it is to give both sides the sense that they could benefit from the conflict ending. But so far, neither side is willing to recognize that their negotiating counterpart on the other side that they have any legitimacy.

KELLY: As these talks were beginning to unfold in Geneva, on the ground in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad's troops were closing in on Aleppo, the largest city there, coincidence do you think or a calculated move to strike while attention was focused elsewhere?

FORD: For months and months, the Syrian government has been trying to claw back territory in northern Syria, and the beginning of the Russian air campaign and the Russians providing close air support has really helped the Syrian government forces and the foreign Shia fighters that are in Syria helping the Syrian government. What has happened now is that the Syrian government has made major progress and, in fact, encircling the opposition-held parts of Aleppo, which is likely going to trigger yet another wave of refugees.

KELLY: Do you think the Assad regime ever had any intention of coming to a diplomatic solution?

FORD: They do not want to negotiate a compromised political deal. They want to negotiate the opposition's surrender.

KELLY: Talk about the challenge posed by the fact that ISIS, which, of course, controls huge swaths of Syria, is not represented at the talks.

FORD: Well, the Islamic State would never agree to a political deal in Syria in any case (unintelligible).

KELLY: And I'm sure that the Western powers there would never agree to sit down with them. Still, they control a huge part of the country at stake.

FORD: Yeah, and what they're negotiating in Geneva is to try to create a government that would rally the rest of the Syrians to go fight the Islamic State. It's interesting that the Russians seem to want a new government that would rally more Syrians to fight the Islamic State, and yet the Russians are doing very little to help that happen.

KELLY: All right, thanks very much.

FORD: My pleasure.

KELLY: That's Robert Ford. He's former ambassador to Syria, now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.