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Paris Attacks Lend Urgency To Diplomatic Talks In Vienna


We want to go now to - want to go now to NPR's Michele Kelemen because the terrorist attacks in Paris have added urgency to a gathering there in Vienna where Secretary of State Kerry has been meeting with colleagues on Syria. He and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, stood together today in support of France.

Well, we don't have that tape but - they - Secretary Kerry said that - referred to it as a vile, horrendous, outrageous, unacceptable acts. Michele, you're with us from Vienna. Thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: And the French foreign minister of course was there. What did he say about the attacks?

KELEMEN: That's right. It was in between the meetings that Laurent Fabius spoke to us briefly and he said these talks have really taken on a new meaning. One of the objectives now, he says, is to see how concretely countries can coordinate better in the fight against ISIS. This meeting is just the latest attempt to bring together all the countries that are involved in Syria; countries that have been backing different sides of the Civil War to forge some kind of common ground and get to a diplomatic solution.

SIMON: Everyone, of course, there seems to - not just seems to be - they are condemning the attacks in Paris. What about other aspects, though, of what they have to discuss that might be a bit tougher?

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, Secretary Kerry says this has really encouraged everyone to work harder to end the war in Syria. But let's remember he's always said that this war won't end until ISIS can be defeated and as long as Bashar al-Assad remains leader of Syria. The U.S. says these are two sides of the same coin. They called Assad a magnet for terrorists. So and, you know, on the other hand you have Russia and Iran both represented here in Vienna as well and they're backing the Assad regime. They see the need for stability in Syria as the way to deal with ISIS. And that's where this diplomacy has always been stuck. That and on the fact that these countries don't really agree on who's a terrorist and who's part of the moderate opposition that could be part of some sort of future peace talk.

SIMON: It seems from this distance that Sergey Lavrov made a point of appearing alongside Secretary Kerry today. Is there any indication that they have changed the Russian position or there's any kind of - really any basis for discussion on some of those points?

KELEMEN: It's really hard to tell. They did speak side by side here in Vienna, but he didn't get into those kinds of disagreements. Lavrov only said that there should be no tolerance of any terrorism and he's vowing to do more to defeat ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. But remember, Russian airstrikes to date have been mainly targeting Bashar al-Assad's other opponents, some of whom are backed by countries represented here in Vienna. Diplomats had been hoping that the meetings here were a chance to agree on some fundamental aspects of this problem - who's a terrorist and who can be part of the future?

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen with Secretary Kerry in Vienna. Thanks so much for being with us, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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.
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