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U.N.'s Syria Envoy To Meet With Foreign Ministers Of Turkey, Iran, Russia


Let's return now to that fluid situation in northeastern Syria. This is where Kurdish militias who are allied with the United States and helped reclaim land from ISIS felt suddenly vulnerable after President Trump ordered a U.S. withdrawal. Turkey sees these YPG Kurdish forces as a terrorist threat, and it wants them away from the border. But a cease-fire between Turkish forces and Kurdish militias is due to expire later today. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been reporting on this in southeast Turkey and joins me now. Hi, Peter.


GREENE: So what is life like along this all-important border right now?

KENYON: Well, the border is relatively quiet so far. But the question is what happens next? That's what people are asking. Witnesses are reporting Turkish military convoys continuing to bring vehicles and personnel to the border area. Military helicopters are overhead. I heard some this morning. This cease-fire has not been totally peaceful - not totally peaceful. Each side accused the other of violating it in the large area near Ras al-Ayn.

But the overall assessment is that it has largely held for the past several days, and Kurdish fighters have been moving away from the border. But now with this cease-fire due to expire, will people here be seeing mortar and rocket fire again? And certainly, the same, if not worse, on the Syrian side of the border. So that's where the Turkish forces are now occupying what they call a safe zone.

GREENE: Is there diplomacy underway? Any talk of, you know, extending this cease-fire before things, you know, start to fire up again?

KENYON: Well, it's been unclear. No bold predictions of extending this. But it is worth noting that Turkey's foreign minister is meeting today with his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Geneva. That's ahead of a longer-term U.N.-mediated meeting on constitutional reform in Syria. So with the three top diplomats responsible for the so-called Astana Process aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict meeting today, it's worth watching to see if they could come up with anything.

GREENE: And Peter, just tell us - where is the U.S. in all of this?

KENYON: Well, in part, they're still celebrating the targeted killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Turkey has joined the list of countries claiming to have helped with that operation. Reports so far suggest that Kurdish intelligence played a vital role. There's some feeling that now is the time to build on that success with more anti-ISIS operations, as some U.S. forces are going to remain in Syria. They've been ordered to guard Syrian oil facilities.

But the official U.S. position remains that neighboring countries should be doing any fighting that needs to be done. And the risk to forces in Syria would seem to be increased now following this killing. ISIS needs to name a new leader, but avenging Baghdadi's killing would seem likely to be a priority.

GREENE: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is near the Turkey-Syria border reporting on this cease-fire that's set to expire today. Peter, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.