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Major Powers Agree To Implement A Cease-Fire In Syria


The U.S. and Russia have agreed on a plan to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to Syria. And in one week, they say, the warring parties will enact a, quote, "cessation of hostilities" leading to peace talks. Secretary of State John Kerry calls it an ambitious timeline and acknowledges there's a tough road ahead.


JOHN KERRY: You know, our hard work is obviously far from over. But our work today, while it has produced commitments on paper, I want to restate the real test is clearly whether or not all the parties honor those commitments and implement them in reality.

KELLY: John Kerry - he was speaking there after many hours of negotiations with his Russian counterpart and with other countries that have a stake in what happens in Syria, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. They are all in Munich for an annual security conference this weekend which is being overshadowed by the war in Syria. NPR's Michele Kelemen is there in Munich, and she's on the line now. Hey, Michele.


KELLY: So first, give us a little bit more detail on what the diplomats have actually agreed.

KELEMEN: Well, they agreed to do what they've promised to do before but with a more concrete timeline - that is, to encourage their proxies to cease hostilities in a week with an eye to a more permanent cease-fire down the road. They agreed to work more quickly to get aid to besieged cities by airdrops and by road. And they're hoping that all of this is going to be enough to get the Syrian government and opponents of Bashar al-Assad to finally reach a political agreement.

KELLY: So help us understand couple of things. Russia had been saying that they would agree to a cease-fire, but they were saying they needed more time - that it couldn't be until the end of month. Do we know why they have agreed to a cessation of hostilities within a week?

KELEMEN: Well, Russian warplanes have been bombing the city of Aleppo, and that's one of the reasons why peace talks never got off the ground earlier this month. And Russia's foreign minister points out that the cease-fire doesn't cover airstrikes on terrorist groups, and that's what they say they're doing Aleppo. So he's suggesting that this operation in Aleppo, for instance, is going to continue. He brushes off criticism that the Russians are actually hitting hospitals and cutting off aid routes, and he was stony-faced as he always is when Secretary Kerry talked about what Russia's doing, this indiscriminate bombing campaign, is simply backing up a Syrian government that's forcing towns to surrender through starvation. That said, Mary Louise, this group - it's called the International Syria Support Group, or the ISSG - does recognize the need to work with Russia, Kerry said. Let's take a listen.


KERRY: There's no way to institute a cease-fire effectively, and no way to produce the access we want for humanitarian assistance without all of the ISSG members working with Russia and others in an effort to guarantee that the access is provided and that the cessation of hostilities actually takes hold.

KELLY: Michele, so we've been talking about what the U.S., Russia, other states have agreed to in Munich. To be clear, does this cessation of hostilities that they have agreed, does it include the forces fighting for Bashar al-Assad's regime? Does it include the opposition forces fighting them?

KELEMEN: This is going to be the problem. This deal was worked out among the countries that support various sides in this war. And the goal now is for all of them to encourage their proxies to cease hostilities. But again, as we've been hearing, the Russians and the Americans say that this doesn't cover areas controlled by terrorists. And the Russians say that's what they're doing in Aleppo is going after terrorists. Russia's foreign minister says Russia wants to deal with this professionally, and he said that the U.S. and Russia are going to set up a joint task force to decide which areas are controlled by terrorist groups - which are legitimate targets and which are not. So this is going to be a very complicated process even among those groups, let alone what the fighting forces do on the ground.

KELLY: OK, Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen speaking to us from Munich where the U.S. and Russia have just agreed on a plan to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to Syria. 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.