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World

What Would A Cease-Fire In Syria Mean For Russian Airstrikes?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We have word today of a deal for a possible cease-fire in Syria starting in one week's time. But it's not clear exactly what that means for Russia's campaign of airstrikes in Syria, or whether either forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the opposition forces fighting against them will agree to lay down their arms. The cease-fire was announced this morning in Munich. And on the line now from Munich, we have the man who's been brokering the talks. Steffan de Mistura is the U.N. special envoy for Syria. Good morning.

STAFFAN DE MISTURA: Good morning. And let me be very honest - the brokering of the talks has been really done by John Kerry, together with Lavrov, and I've been helping.

KELLY: The foreign minister of Russia and our American secretary of state.

MISTURA: That's correct. And I want to give them credit.

KELLY: Very diplomatic of you. Well, let me ask you because John Kerry - Secretary of State John Kerry - what he has been saying this morning is that what's been agreed is a pause in the violence, which sounds perhaps like something less than a full cease-fire. How would you describe it?

MISTURA: Exactly like you did. You see, no conflict - in particular, no conflict as complicated as this one - can actually end abruptly with a cease-fire, which is a very complicated, cumbersome and dangerous environment. What is much better is a pause or a cessation of hostilities. In other words, all sides will stop heavy weapons. And trust me, that makes a hell of a difference. The next step is then negotiating a cease-fire. So the policy is the right thing, and that is what the Syrian people are waiting for - no more bombing, no more murder.

KELLY: Does the deal, the pause that's just been reached, does it require Russia to halt all airstrikes inside Syria?

MISTURA: When we talk about a military cessation of hostilities, a pause, it's clearly addressing to anyone who is using heavy weapons, and that means also Russia.

KELLY: But there's some confusion because it has not been agreed to halt activities against ISIS. So could Russia or could other forces continue airstrikes against ISIS, and then it becomes a little murky?

MISTURA: Syria is a very complicated environment. At the moment, ISIS, Daesh, and al-Nusra have taken advantage. When there is a weak point, they get into it. Having said that, everybody at least agrees that Daesh, ISIS, is a common enemy. So no one is hesitating or doubting that when we will see the beginning of this cessation of hostility, that will not mean that Daesh, ISIS, will not be targeted.

KELLY: Practically speaking, then, what are you hoping this will mean on the ground in Syria?

MISTURA: Let me answer on behalf of the Syrian people. OK, I was, as you know, a few days ago organizing in Geneva some peace talks. And I was flooded by Syrian messages of normal people like you and me saying thank you for starting the peace talks, but what we need is to believe in them. And to believe in them, we need food, medicine, and we need no more bombs on our heads. What does it mean? One side saying I'm not doing aerial bombing anymore, the other one saying no more mortar shelling, the other one saying no more use of cannons. And then it's verified. If it breaks down, which it can, immediately reconvene this group and say, let's now push it further on that point and not leave it just as a declaration. The big difference between anything we have seen so far is this is not a declaration. This is a commitment. But it needs to be verified.

KELLY: Absolutely. And it sounds like you see this as a multistep process. First, there's some pause to allow food and other supplies to get in, then maybe a slightly more permanent cease-fire and then that could, down the road, pave the way toward a more comprehensive peace settlement.

MISTURA: You said it. That's real life, you know. That's what wars are all about, unfortunately. It doesn't happen overnight.

KELLY: Before we let you go, how far apart are all of these parties in terms of what the ultimate goal they would like to see in Syria is?

MISTURA: They are far apart about the ultimate goal, but they are very close about realizing that they will not have the perfect solution. And in fact, it's time to find a formula which has been defined. It's called a transition and transitional government and a new constitution and new elections and a new Syria.

KELLY: OK - Steffan de Mistura, thank you.

MISTURA: Thank you.

KELLY: Steffan de Mistura is the U.N. special envoy for Syria. He's leading the talks in Munich, where diplomats have just agreed to a cessation of hostilities for Syria starting in a week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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