Syria Peace Talks End In Apparent Failure

Feb 14, 2014
Originally published on February 14, 2014 3:22 pm

The peace talks in Switzerland aren’t changing much on the ground in Syria. Government troops and warplanes continue to batter a rebel-held town near the border with Lebanon, and an effort to evacuate trapped civilians from the besieged city of Homs has been halted.

NPR’s Deborah Amos joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the talks.

“It was a bust in Geneva,” she says. “It’s really hard to see how these talks go anywhere, and if anybody had a better idea, I think that they would cancel them.”

Guest

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JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

The latest round of peace talks in Syria ended today in Geneva, Switzerland, with no progress toward ending the civil war in that country. The Syrian government and the opposition delegates who are meeting in Switzerland say they are at an impasse. Meanwhile, in Syria, the fighting continues. A car bomb exploded at a mosque in a southern village today. Rebels say more than two dozen people were killed.

NPR international correspondent Deborah Amos has been following all of these. She's with us from Washington. Deb, welcome back to HERE AND NOW.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

HOBSON: Well, let's start with what is happening or, maybe, I should say not happening in Geneva. Another round of talks has wrapped up, and it doesn't look like anything has changed.

AMOS: It was a bust in Geneva. And in some ways, more so than the first week because this time, we saw both the U.S. and Russia sit in, and they were supposed to come in and move the parties forward. That didn't happen. So now we have a situation where both sides disagree on what the agenda should be. One side, the regime side, wants to talk about terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. The opposition wants to talk about the transitional government, which is what the talks were supposed to be about. But the Syrian regime is saying, no. If you look at the communique, we all agree to: terrorism is a part of that. So we want to do it in order. And it's number six, to talk about the transitional government. So it's really hard to see how these talks go anywhere. And if anybody had a better idea, I think that they would cancel them

Well the whole idea of the transitional government is something that Russia is not in favor of, right? They don't want regime change in Syria.

They don't want regime change. They are not particularly wedded to Bashar al-Assad, which they have said, when the opposition comes to visit them in Moscow. And the opposition is becoming more pragmatic. They are visiting Moscow. They did put a plan on the table that doesn't explicitly call for the end of Bashar al-Assad, although it is there as the process would go on. But they are moving in a more pragmatic direction. However, if the regime doesn't want to negotiate and the Russians won't push them to do so, it's really hard to see how this process moves forward.

HOBSON: Is there any chance of a security council resolution in the U.N. that would do something? Because don't you have to have both the U.S. and Russia on the same page if you're going to get a resolution?

AMOS: Indeed. And there is one up, but it's about humanitarian access. And there again, there's a fight and the sides are split in the same way that they are in Geneva. It's the French and the British who proposed the humanitarian access provision. It's the Russians who are threatening to veto. They are working on language. But you're seeing the same stonewalling in the U.N. as you in Geneva.

HOBSON: Well, let's talk about what is happening on the ground in Syria. And one of the major focal points is the city of Homs, which is a real battle going on between the regime and the rebels. Now, there's a question about how to get people out and just who can come out of there and be evacuated, because the Syrian regime says that some of these people that are being evacuated, they're just going to go be rebels.

AMOS: There's a couple of interesting points on this. It was - it took six months to negotiate the evacuation of 1,400 people who've been trapped for more than a year, desperate people who were literally starving. And some of them were brought out this week. However, 11 people died in this operation. The U.N.'s Valerie Amos says we can't continue. This is not a model, certainly not when it is so dangerous for our people.

Another factor in this evacuation is there was only one point that people could get out. This is a small area in the middle of Homs. It's a - it's called the old part of the city, and there's about nine neighborhoods that comprised this area. And so some people couldn't even get to the checkpoint where you could get out. So there's another thousand people inside Homs. And the real fear is once this evacuation and food drop is over, that the army has essentially carte blanche to continue to bomb Homs and to take care of any opposition that is there. So anybody who stays - and there are civilians among those thousand, including Christians, a Dutch Jesuit priest - anybody who stays is in real danger.

The other people who are at risks are some fighting-age men who came out. They were taken away by the regime. The U.N. has been trying to watch what happens to them, but it is not clear what is going to happen to them. And that will put a shadow under any other evacuation anyplace else in Syria.

HOBSON: Well, and you mentioned the call from the U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos. Let's listen to what she said. She's calling for a security council resolution that would ensure more humanitarian aids get into Syria.

VALERIE AMOS: The key for us is action. There are lots of words around what is happening in Syria and what can and cannot be done. The key to all of this is action. We're talking about millions of people.

HOBSON: And, Deb Amos, she says millions of people - almost 10 million people have had to flee their homes in the course of this conflict, and many of them to refugee camps. You've been there. What are they like?

AMOS: Well, there's more than 2 million who have fled Syria to neighboring countries, and they are still coming. There is operation and a place called Qalamoun, which is in on the Lebanese border. Four hundred a day are crossing into Lebanon. They go into a town called Arsal. And even Syrian refugees there stopping them because they say there is no more room for any of you to come here. So people have been camping out in tents. Remember, this is the middle of the winter. In almost every place - Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq - there are still people crossing the border. Last week, when the regime was barrel bombing Homs, there was a mad dash to the borders because death was raining down on this city.

And so, let's even look at the numbers. Since Geneva began, since the negotiating process began, some 5,000 Syrians have been killed inside the country, and this is according to a Syrian human rights group. It is some of the highest numbers that we've seen, and this is in the middle of negotiations.

HOBSON: And all this time, we hear from Syrians that they think the world has abandoned them. Is that the feeling now? Have they given up hope in many cases?

AMOS: I think they've been saying this for some time. You know, how can the world watch? We all said never again. We said it over Rwanda. And now we are back to this wholesale, humanitarian crisis in the region that is destabilizing most of the Middle East. And Syrians feel that there is no one who is standing up for them. But there's been no bumper sticker for Syria. There was for Darfur. And people in this country understood what was happening in a place that was really far away that maybe they didn't even understand. But that has not happened with Syria. It's a complicated conflict. People understand that Syrians are dying, but it has not captured the imagination. Certainly not in this country.

HOBSON: NPR international correspondent Deborah Amos. Deb, thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.