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No End in Sight to the War in Syria

FILE - Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion run to avoid snipers on the frontline against the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria July 27, 2015. (REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)

FILE - Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion run to avoid snipers on the frontline against the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria July 27, 2015. (REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)

U.S. officials said this week that the United States is moving forward with an international agreement with Iran. The agreement would release Iran from trade restrictions while it agrees not to develop nuclear weapons. Congressional Republicans strongly oppose the agreement, but have failed to pass a resolution to reject it.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans failed to get the 60 votes they needed for a bill “disapproving” the deal. The vote was 56 to 42. The week before, the bill also failed to get the necessary votes.

World powers and Iran announced the deal in July. They agreed to ease international economic sanctions against Iran. In exchange, Iran promised to limit its nuclear activities.

After the announcement, some observers said they hoped the United States, Russia and Iran would turn their attention to negotiating an end to the civil war in Syria.

Instead, Russia and Iran restated their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government. That support seems to prolong the four-year-long war. An estimated 240,000 people have died in the fighting so far.

Most sides involved in Syria recognize the importance of defeating the terrorist forces of the Islamic State. But experts say an offensive against the militants is unlikely as long as the civil war continues.

Last month, the United Nations Security Council expressed support for renewed peace efforts in Syria. It was the first time in two years that the council’s 15 members agreed on a political statement about the conflict.

The plan calls for the creation of a new government in Syria.

European nations are especially interested in ending the war. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Europe. Migrants and refugees from other countries also have joined that flow, and tensions are strained along various borders.

Last weekend, Germany’s foreign minister reportedly pushed “for a new diplomatic initiative” in talks with Russia’s foreign minister. The German official said he is worried about “the increasing amount of human suffering” and needs of refugees who are seeking asylum in Germany and other countries.

Retired Marine General John Allen is the U.S. representative to the coalition fighting the Islamic State. He said the refugee crisis cannot be ended unless the war in Syria ends.

General Allen told the BBC that “this instability has been created by Bashar al-Assad and that regime. He ultimately chose to make war on his own people. That ultimately created the crisis that we face today.” He added that President Assad “had to go.”

The general suggested the war will not end with military action. In his words, “the conflict has got to be solved at a political level and a global level.” But a political settlement has been elusive. It would require agreement among the Assad government, many different rebel groups and the countries that support them.

Iran has given Syria thousands of fighters, as well as billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, fuel and loans. Last week, Iran said it does not agree that Mr. Assad should give up power. The rebel groups, however, agree that he should.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said “those who set conditions about the Syrian president should be blamed for the continued war.” A day after he spoke, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said he is willing to talk with other countries, including Saudi Arabia, about ways to end the war in Syria.

But he said there could be no debate about the future of President Assad until there is peace in Syria. The rebels believe peace will not come to Syria until Mr. Assad is no longer president. Others worry about who would replace Mr. Assad and if the country would be made stable.

Russia is also a strong supporter of the president. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called the demand for Mr. Assad to be removed “unrealistic and counterproductive.”

In the past few weeks, Russia has strengthened its support for the Syrian government. It has sent Russian military “advisors” to Syria, and increased weapons to the Assad government. It is providing intelligence information and other aid. This has reduced the possibility of a diplomatic end to the war.

Staffan de Mistura is a U.N. diplomat. He has been travelling throughout the Middle East and Europe, meeting with officials to try to end the war in Syria. Earlier, he tried to negotiate cease-fires in parts of the country to gain trust among the fighting groups. But U.S. officials told VOA that his efforts failed.

Syrian rebel leaders warn that the longer the war goes on, the more refugees will flee the country. Bassam Abdullah is with the Syrian Coalition, a Western-supported opposition group. He says people are fleeing Syria because they fear the war will not end soon.

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Jamie Dettmer reported this story for Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words In the News

sanctions – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country or by not allowing economic aid for that country (usually plural)

instability – n. the quality or state of being unstable; the state of being likely to change

regime – n. a form of government

ultimately – adv. at the end of a process or period of time

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