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Biden: U.S., Turkey committed to defeating ISIS in Syria

January 23, 2016 at 6:17 PM EDT
Vice President Joe Biden says the United States and Turkey are prepared for a military solution in Syria if a political settlement is not possible. On Saturday, 45 opposition groups issued a statement saying they support a political process but the biggest players are still at odds. New York Times reporter Anne Barnard joins Alison Stewart via Skype from Beirut.
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ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: “New York Times” reporter Anne Barnard the Syrian conflict. She joins me now from Beirut.

And, Anne, why are the United States and Russia signaling through their behavior that they’re not necessarily confident, let’s say, in a political end to this?

ANNE BARNARD, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, there isn’t much reason to be optimistic right now. I mean, nothing fundamental has changed in the opposition — in the diametric — diametrically opposed positions of the Syrian government and its Syrian insurgent opponents since Geneva II, two years ago.

There’s still a disagreement about whether President Assad needs to leave before a politician transition begins and changes on the ground. But there’s still, you know, no sign that all the warring parties believe that they can gain more through a peace settlement than they can by continuing to fight.

So, I think there’s reason to believe that the fight will continue. At the same time, you have an entire piece of this multi war that’s not really affected by these talks (AUDIO GAP)

ALISON STEWART: In one of your pieces and from your reporting, that the United States and Russia have a, what you wrote as a, quote, “fundamental disagreement of how to move forward.” What’s at the heart of the disagreement?

ANNE BARNARD: Yes, you can’t get much more fundamental than this disagreement over to how to defeat ISIS.

In order, the United States has long said the rise of ISIS is predominantly because of President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on his first peaceful and then armed opponents, and that has opened the space for this radically extremist group to gain a foothold, whereas Russia has long said that they believe pretty much all of the forces fighting President Assad by force are terrorists, as he says, and they don’t make much distinction between the Islamic state and the other spectrum of insurgent groups, that range from nationalist rebels to Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

The United States sees a meaningful spectrum, whereas Russia basically sees them as all as terrorists and is attacking the other insurgents, in fact, much more than it’s attacking ISIS in its air strikes.

ALISON STEWART: With a common enemy like ISIS, why isn’t that enough to bring on some sort of collaboration?

ANNE BARNARD: Well, this is a great question. I mean, you know, all of the parties going from Iran to Russia to the Syrian government to even the al Qaeda-linked insurgents to other insurgents, to the United States — they all profess to be against ISIS. But the issue is that the enmities between and among those groups supposedly arrayed against ISIS are so strong that they’re not able to unite against it.

ALISON STEWART: Anne Barnard from “The New York Times,” thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

ANNE BARNARD: Thank you.

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