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Aleppo Horrors Will Help Define Modern Evil, U.S. Ambassador Power Says


OK. Something rare has happened in Syria. It appears for the moment, at least, that a cease-fire is holding, allowing civilians to escape the eastern part of the city of Aleppo where there have been attacks and atrocities. But the story for months, years really, is world powers unable to agree on what to do in Syria. At the U.N. Security Council they can't even agree on basic facts, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Throughout the conflict in Syria, the U.S. and Russia have offered very different pictures and their ambassadors at the U.N., Samantha Power and Vitaly Churkin, have often clashed. Those tensions reached a crescendo this week as the Syrian regime, backed by Russia and Iran, tighten the noose around the ancient city of Aleppo.


SAMANTHA POWER: Three member states of the U.N. contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you.

KELEMEN: Before she joined the Obama administration, Ambassador Power was best known for writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about preventing genocide.


POWER: Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that defined modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later - Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Aleppo.

KELEMEN: Russia's Vitaly Churkin accused her of spreading lies to the U.N. Security Council and acting like, in his words, Mother Teresa.


VITALY CHURKIN: (Through interpreter) Propaganda, disinformation, psychological war. These aren't new concepts. A new phenomenon exacerbated by the phenomenon that we've seen during this Syrian conflict is the spread of fake news.

KELEMEN: But it is Russia that's making up reasons for getting involved in Syria, says Cameron Hudson, the director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

CAMERON HUDSON: The Russians have essentially premised their entire involvement on a kind of fake premise that they're there fighting ISIS.

KELEMEN: For the past year, he says, most Russian attacks have targeted civilians and Syrian rebels that are not affiliated with ISIS. Activists have been documenting this. The problem with Syria though is that the war is complicated and all sides are committing atrocities, so it's easy for Russia to cast aspersions on any claim Hudson says. But, he adds, the world can't say he didn't know, as residents in eastern Aleppo fill social media with their final goodbyes.

HUDSON: We can know in real time - in full color, on our phone and on our computer - what's happening in the individual lives of people who are being killed on the ground. And it's not moving in any practical sense our leaders, the Security Council or, you know, the sort of world community at large.

KELEMEN: Hudson says it's time to ask why that is and what can break the international paralysis. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.