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Foreign Ministers To Meet In Vienna, Discuss Syria


Tomorrow in Vienna, some of the countries that have the most influence in Syria will meet to discuss the crisis in that country. Foreign ministers from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will be there. So will Secretary of State John Kerry. These countries all have interests in Syria, and they back different fighters on the ground. Jeremy Shapiro - no relation - is with the Brookings Institution. He was formally with the U.S. State Department, and he joins us from Brussels. Welcome to the show.

JEREMY SHAPIRO: Thanks for having me.

A. SHAPIRO: First, sum up what you think the U.S. hopes to accomplish at this meeting.

J. SHAPIRO: I don't think that they hope to accomplish a great deal. I think that the purpose of this meeting, which is the sort of first big meeting between the interested parties since the Russian intervention, is to try to feel out what the Russian position actually is. It's been relatively clear since the beginning that the Russians mean this as a sort of negotiating gambit, that they want to create some sort of negotiation toward a political settlement. But what we don't know is precisely what political settlement they're seeking.

A. SHAPIRO: You say the Russians are using this as a negotiating gambit, that this is a bombing campaign meant to support Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. government would like to see out. Do you think the Russian bombing campaign has significantly changed the chessboard?

J. SHAPIRO: It's definitely affected the chessboard a great deal. And of course, it's gotten everyone's attention. I don't think that in the end it will dramatically affect the dynamic of the Syrian civil war. I don't think that the Russians have the capacity to extinguish the opposition to President Assad. But they do have the capacity to secure him in power for quite a bit longer, and they are trying to use that capacity to negotiate from a position of strength.

A. SHAPIRO: One important party is not at the negotiating table in Vienna, and that is Iran. Can any kind of a solution be reached without Iranian involvement?

J. SHAPIRO: I don't think so. I think that the Iranians are too important on the ground in Syria. They have too much influence with the Assad regime and the various militias that are supporting it, and they have too much capacity to spoil any agreement that is been made without them. I think that whether we like it or not, if we're going to have a political settlement to the Syrian civil war, the Iranians need to be part of it.

A. SHAPIRO: Jeremy, I've spent a lot of time with Syrian refugees who have sort of given up hope for the future of their country. Your analysis does not offer much hope.

J. SHAPIRO: No, it doesn't. I think that we have to recognize that there is a limit to our power to address the root cause of what is destroying the lives of so many Syrians. And that's a tremendous tragedy, but just feeling bad about it won't change it. I think that the two things that we need to be doing if we do feel the moral tug that we should that comes from witnessing these tragedies is, first of all, to be looking for a negotiated settlement that will end the war on some terms and, secondly, to be trying to treat the symptoms of the disease that is the Syrian civil war.

We talk so much about how this - the root cause, the cause of the disease is the Syrian civil war, but we don't know how to cure that disease. And when you have an incurable disease, it makes sense to treat the symptoms. The symptoms in this case are the refugees and the internally displaced people, and the world should be paying a lot more attention to them and should be spending a lot more money and making much greater efforts to integrate them to deal with that suffering. I think it's not the best solution, but it's the only path that we have.

A. SHAPIRO: That's Jeremy Shapiro, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and editor of the blog Order From Chaos. He joined us from Brussels. Thank you, Jeremy.

J. SHAPIRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.