Is The Cease-Fire In Syria Holding?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
There is nothing certain about a cease-fire in Syria. It isn't even a total cease-fire since operations are ongoing against ISIS, but it did take effect for some parties over the weekend. And this cease-fire is being monitored by Staffan de Mistura, U.N. special envoy for Syria. He joins us now from Geneva. He's on the line. Welcome to the program.
STAFFAN DE MISTURA: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: What does the cease-fire look like, as far as you can tell?
DE MISTURA: First of all, if I may correct the wording, we call it a cessation of hostilities...
DE MISTURA: Which is much simpler as a thing. In other words, all sides stop fighting and using weapons except, of course, ISIS, Daesh and al-Nusra, which are terrorist organizations. So far, I must say all of us - we are here with the Russian and the American side, which have been and are the organizers and coordinators of the cease-fire. We could have had much worse news, frankly. Don't forget where we started. We used to have 120 air sorties. We used to have barrel bombs all over the country. And we used to have a mortar shelling inside the middle of the city every day. That's what makes a difference for the Syrian people. Having said that, we need to be more ambitious than that. And we should be very cautious in assessing the success. But what we have done so far and we have seen by this 24-hour-seven monitoring system that we have at the U.N. with the Russians and Americans is that every time there's been an incident, that has been so far contained.
INSKEEP: How many incidents have there been?
DE MISTURA: Well, we're not going to figure because there've been different numbers depending on reports and confirmed incidents.
DE MISTURA: What I can tell you is that when they have taken place, there has been immediately a crisis group taking action on it, containing it so that it doesn't become a series of incidents because that's what can make a cease-fire or a cessation-hostilities in danger.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what this looks like in practice. I'm looking at Reuters news report from today, Feb. 29, saying that Syrian government forces regained control of a key road to the northern city of Aleppo after making advances against Islamic State fighters, ISIS fighters. So if I understand it, that's OK under this cessation of hostilities. They're fighting ISIS. But if they fought some other group, that would be wrong. Is that how it works?
DE MISTURA: You are very close to the truth because obviously, one has to make sure that these are really ISIS and that - al-Nusra. But that's part of the cessation of hostilities agreement, that everyone should stop fighting each other among those who have accepted the cease-fire. And there are two exceptions, al-Nusra and ISIL, because both of them are listed as terrorist organizations by the U.N. Security Council. You're right. That's why when you have a news about air operations, both from the Americans, actually, and from the Russians, the issue is to verify whether they are actually hitting al-Nusra or Daesh, because in that case we should not consider that a breach of the cease-fire.
INSKEEP: Are you sure that the Americans and Russians agree on who's a terrorist and who's covered by the cease-fire?
DE MISTURA: What I can say that they both agree that the only terrorists, according to them and frankly according to the task force, including 18 countries who are involved in it, are those listed by the Security Council. And the two main ones are ISIL and al-Nusra.
INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned trying to be more ambitious. Would you explain how that works? What would the next step be here if this cessation of hostilities holds?
DE MISTURA: First, that the holds - frankly, I've been now 45 years with the U.N. in 19 conflicts. And trust me, every single conflict, much less complex and less devastating than this one, cease-fires were always very fragile, especially at the beginning because there'll be an incident. There will be spoilers. There will be attempts to put the blame on each other and so on. The bottom line, first thing it needs to hold and then to take hold - in other words, expand its capacity within the whole country except the areas we just mentioned. The second one is to allow, through that, much more humanitarian assistance. The people of Syria have been asking us, the U.N., when we started the so-called Geneva talks - they said, please, don't give us just talks. We need two things. Stop the bombing. And allow us to walk in the street and go to a shop and buy some food, and get us food and medicine. These are the two tests to see whether this is producing effect. And the first thing to tell us that are the Syrians. So far, there has been 95 percent of the Syrians that have been interviewed informally said they are obviously welcoming and hoping that the cease-fire takes hold.
INSKEEP: If the cease-fire holds, does that create the conditions for a political solution in Syria or would something else have to happen?
DE MISTURA: That would be a major booster in the confidence building and trust. Let's not forget five years of horror, 300,000 people killed, 1 million wounded. There is total distress from this side, and the first gesture of believing in each other or at least believing that there is non-military solution is the reduction of violence, which means the cease-fire to hold.
INSKEEP: Staffan de Mistura is U.N.'s special envoy for Syria. Thanks very much, sir.
DE MISTURA: Not at all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.