June 7, 2013
Leaders from around the world are urging Syrian opposition and government groups to hold talks aimed at ending the two-year-old civil war there. But the Syrian opposition won’t commit to negotiations. Guest host Celeste Headlee speaks with Khalid Saleh, Chief Spokesperson for the Syrian Opposition recognized by the US.
CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I’m Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, the latest jobs report is out. The economy added jobs, but also added to the unemployment rate. We’ll explain how that math works with the Wall Street Journal’s Sudeep Reddy and NPR’s Marilyn Geewax. The Civil War there has now raged for two years, more than two years. The most recent reports say President Bashar al-Assad’s army is making gains at this point, including the capture of a key rebel stronghold this week. And from the earliest days of the conflict, the war was never contained by Syria’s borders. Refugees and violence has spilled over into neighboring countries, Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel. Arizona Senator John McCain just got back from a trip to the region. He spoke yesterday at The Brookings Institution about what he saw.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN MCCAIN SPEECH)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Syria as we know it, is ceasing to exist. More than 80,000 people are dead. A quarter of all Syrians have been driven from their homes. The Syrian state is disintegrating in much of the country, leaving vast ungoverned spaces that are being filled by extremists, many of them aligned with Al-Qaeda.
HEADLEE: Joining me now in studio is the chief spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition. His name is Khalid Saleh. Welcome to the program.
KHALID SALEH: Thank you for having me.
HEADLEE: First of all, your response to John McCain’s characterization of what he saw in Syria.
SALEH: We know for a fact that of the 185,000 square kilometers in Syria, 100,000 is not under the control of the government, they are liberated areas. However, we have a challenge in governing those areas. We’ve been trying, with very limited resources, to provide services to people. We’ve been trying to help local administrative councils provide services, rule these different areas, provide rule of law, but has been challenging with the limited support that we are receiving from the international community. Bashar al-Assad has been trying to push back, to like, you know, his forces are trying to gain control over certain areas.
But the reality is, his army, which was the 13th largest army in the world, has been degraded to a great extent. At this point, he’s having to rely on Hezbollah militias to assist him. He continues to receive massive shipments of weapons from Russia. We all heard about the S-300 missiles that Russia is sending to Assad. He’s also getting help from Iran. All these – all these forces.
HEADLEE: What kind of help is he getting from Iran?