Syrian Peace Talks Falter; Violence Intensifies
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
We begin today with Syria where a cease-fire there hangs by a thread, according to negotiators. Again, there is heavy fighting in and around Aleppo, the country's largest city. And again, the Syrian opposition has walked away from peace talks. The U.N.'s point man for the talks is Staffan de Mistura, and he's on the line from Geneva. Good morning, sir.
STAFFAN DE MISTURA: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to start with the situation on the ground in Syria. How serious, right now, is the fighting?
DE MISTURA: The fighting is quite serious. We had a remarkable period of almost no fighting. It was almost a miracle when both the Russia and the U.S. came up with a - quite an agreement, which no one was expecting and which we were then supported by everyone in the region. And we had hardly anyone dying. Now suddenly, in April, we started having people killed in many places. The cease-fire is still holding because the regions where there is no fighting. But look at the figures. I mentioned them yesterday.
One Syrian killed every 25 minutes, and one Syrian wounded every 13 minutes. So we are very concerned. And, you know, the moment you start breaking the perception that the cease-fire is there, everybody starts going back to the old, horrible habit. And we need to bring it back to the normal cease-fire atmosphere where we could bring aid and we could give hope to people in what are a unavoidable solution, which is a political solution.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why are we seeing this increase in the fighting?
DE MISTURA: In my opinion, because there were some ambiguities in the cease-fire. For instance, there are some groups, which are terrorist groups, which have been obviously excluded from this cease-fire. And they had all the interest in breaking it. And then there has been a temptation by one side in particular, the government, but also the other side to try to gain some type of territory. And then tit for tat.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to move on to the peace talks now. Yesterday, you called on the U.S. and Russia to save these talks. What can they do that isn't being done now?
DE MISTURA: Well, do exactly what they did on the 27 of February this year. When suddenly, they were able to announce that they had come up with a formula for a de facto imposing a cease-fire. And that was approved then by 24 countries in the International Support Group, which means Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran of all countries, altogether. And that magically produced a cease-fire. Well, the cease-fire is still just alive.
And what we need is that the American and the Russian can again say, we committed ourselves and we recommit ourselves so that this thing doesn't get lost and we don't get into, basically, a fading cease-fire. We are not yet there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There seems to be, though, a fundamental disagreement on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. You know, the Russians want him to remain in place. The U.S. says that no settlement is possible if he does. What possible resolution do you see to this?
DE MISTURA: Well, you see, I just ended two weeks of intercedent talks between completely different positions. And we were able, still, to come up with quite a lot of common line. I give you one example. They now all agree that there is no alternative but a new government and a political transition and that a new constitution and new election. So we are having some common ground. Of course, the devil is in the detail, and that's why we need negotiation, for God's sake. But for having reliable negotiations, you need to have a cease-fire.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is a sense among some rebel opposition groups, which are not wanting to participate in these talks, that, actually, what the U.N. wants to do is keep Bashar al-Assad in power.
DE MISTURA: Well, we have not said, neither do we intend to get involved in keeping anyone in power. What we are, we are negotiators. We are supposed to find a common ground between two sides, which are convinced that there is a political solution. That's all. And we have a party line which is the Geneva Communique. And the Geneva Communique's very clear about what does it mean, the next steps, the government of transition with full powers. So they should not be concerned.
They should be just engaged. Negotiations are not easy after five years of war.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much for joining us.
DE MISTURA: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Staffan de Mistura is the U.N.'s special envoy to Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.