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Resolve Of Syria's Pro-Government Forces Hardens


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

When President Obama met yesterday with the king of Jordan, much of their talk focused on Jordan's neighbor, Syria. Both governments are trying to figure out how to pressure Syria's president to step down. So far, 10 months of protest by Syria's own people hasn't convinced Bashar al-Assad to do that. Instead, he's cracked down.

The U.N. puts the number of Syrian protestors who've died at more than 5,000. To better understand the situation there, we called NPR's Deborah Amos. She's just returned from the region where she's been covering the conflict.

Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So let's talk about what is going on at this moment in time in Syria. And it's really not good. What makes that country more complicated than other Arab nations that have experienced these pro-democracy movements?

AMOS: It is Syria's strategic importance in the region. That is part of the answer to that question. Then, look at the headlines. This has become a game of nations. Russia has said no to sending foreign troops into Syria, which means nothing is going to happen at the U.N. There's not going to be a Libya scenario. The Syrian government rejects sending Arab League troops into the country.

What we have is a stalemate. The protests are larger than they've been over the last 10 months. The resolve of the pro-government forces are hardening.

MONTAGNE: Well, it is not just because Russia refuses to support international military intervention. It's also the international community has no stomach for mounting the same sort of military intervention in Syria that it did in Libya. Why is that?

AMOS: Washington appears to believe that Bashar al-Assad will fall on his own. Senior policymakers call him dead man walking, that it's just a matter of weeks, that the sanctions will be so draconian in Syria that the people will turn against Bashar al-Assad and throw him out. That is simply not happening.

Bashar has a very firm hold on who his allies are - Iran, Hezbollah, the Shiite power in Lebanon, the Russians, the Chinese - and he knows that they, in some ways, are protecting his regime. The region would change fundamentally if the Assad regime fell, and everybody in the region knows this. And so everybody in the region is being cautious about what happens in Syria. Nobody wants to see a civil war, although I think we are certainly edging in that direction.

MONTAGNE: Well, for the many who haven't been following Syria over these past years, you know, explain why a civil war would be particularly a terrible thing to happen in that region.

AMOS: Let's call it by another name for a minute, and I think it will help us understand this. It could be a sectarian war. When you look at the composition of the protest movement, it is primarily Sunni Muslims. They are the majority in the country.

Syria is run by a minority sect, the Alawites, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam. And the minorities in Syria - Christians, Druze, Kurds - support the government. That composition, that sectarian tension is repeated these days across the region.

And I think the fear is that if there a sectarian war, it could spread to Iraq, that has its own sectarian tensions. It could spread to Lebanon, that also has that same combustible mix of sects who are vying for power. Even it could spread across the border into Turkey, because on the southern border of Turkey, you have Alawites there.

MONTAGNE: And this is a region that no one wants to see, in a sense, go up in flames?

AMOS: That is certainly true. And that is why you see almost paralysis in the international community about what to do about Syria. You have Arab monitors who are there monitoring a peace plan. At the end of this week, they are to prepare a report about whether Syria did comply with the Arab League or did not.

And whatever the answer to that question is, then what? And there is no answer to then what. The international community is no shape at this moment to talk about international intervention. And so what we are watching is a government that is willing to continue to kill its people to put down a democracy movement because no one will stop it.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Deborah Amos has been reporting on the conflict in Syria.

Thanks very much, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Deborah Amos
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.