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Secretary Of State John Kerry To Host Conference On Fighting ISIS


Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to host an international conference on fighting ISIS later this week. He'll probably face a lot of questions about U.S. policy toward Syria. He's working with one of the Syrian regime's backers on this, Russia. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad worry that the U.S. secretary of state is being deceived by his Russian counterpart.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Kerry says he's trying to get the Russians to use their influence with Bashar al-Assad to fight terrorists and make peace with more moderate rebels in Syria. The trouble is Assad views all rebels as terrorists, and so too does Russia. Bassma Kodmani knows that all too well. She's a spokeswoman for the Syrian opposition and says moderate rebels supported by the U.S. have even been bombed when she and her team were negotiating peace in Geneva.

BASSMA KODMANI: The Russians are doing the same on the ground at the moment. They are pounding with airstrikes any group on the ground and civilian populations indiscriminately.

KELEMEN: Kodmani was making the rounds in Washington recently, urging the U.S. to do more to protect civilians in Syria rather than cutting deals with the Russians, who backed the Syrian regime.

KODMANI: We are very concerned that after five and a half years of not bringing the right responses to the crisis that this administration is tempted to pretend that it is doing something on this file and not leaving it without action and agree with Russia on a bad political arrangement.

KELEMEN: That is an arrangement that leaves Assad in power. When Secretary Kerry was in Moscow last week, he insisted that is not part of the deal.


JOHN KERRY: Not one iota of our policy has changed with respect to the Assad regime. We still believe that Syria can't have peace while Assad is there. We believe that. We have a difference with Russia on that. But notwithstanding that difference, we both believe it is important for us to try to reestablish the cessation of hostilities.

KELEMEN: This ceasefire is supposed to cover areas controlled by moderate rebels, and it worked for a short time but then collapsed. There are many complicating factors. Russia claims it is targeting the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked group not covered by the cease fire and has warned moderate forces to get out of the line of fire. Kerry says his team is working on that.


KERRY: It gets very confusing obviously on the ground with respect to who's who and who's where, and that's part of the homework we're going to do.

KELEMEN: Opponents of Assad, though, say Russia and the regime are violating the cease fire and have not faced any consequences for bombing civilians or moderate rebels. Kodmani says the moderates are getting hit from all sides. The Assad regime and Russia, ISIS and the Nusra Front. And she says the long and deadly conflict is taking a toll around the world.

KODMANI: We can't say everything is due to Syria, but there is a little bit of the Syrian conflict in every disaster happening here or there. It's refugees in Europe. It's terrorism in Europe and the United States. It's destabilization of this region. All of this contains some of that Syrian conflict.

KELEMEN: The Syrian Opposition spokeswoman says it would be good if the U.S. and Russia good really work together to resolve the war in her homeland, but she says so far Russia has been deceiving Kerry, talking about a cease fire in peace talks while continuing to carry out air raids that only embolden Bashar al-Assad. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.