MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK, let's change gears and talk about U.S. efforts to keep diplomacy on track in Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been emboldened by military gains on the ground, gains made with support from Russia and Iran. But the U.S. is still hoping that those two countries can persuade Assad to end the bloodshed and allow food to reach rebel-held towns where people are starving. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Assad told his parliament this week that his forces will take back every inch of Syrian territory. His confidence is calling into question U.S. and U.N. diplomacy on Syria. In fact, one Syria-watcher at the Atlantic Council Faysal Itani says it's time to go back to the drawing board.
FAYSAL ITANI: It's safe to say that it has failed. In fact, I didn't think its prospects of success were excellent to begin with.
KELEMEN: The diplomatic plan relies on Russia and Iran using their influence with Assad to encourage the Syrian president to agree on a transitional government and make peace with more moderate rebels. That way, everyone can turn their attention to fighting ISIS. Itani says Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the key architects of this approach, was trying to pull off a diplomatic miracle.
ITANI: He's going and seeking a political concession from the regime at a time when they're militarily in a comfortable situation and the Russians are quite committed to assuring it stays that way. No one has any incentive to give John Kerry what he's asking for.
KELEMEN: There was a time last year when Syria's president was in a weaker position on the ground. Assad admitted that his army couldn't be in every part of Syrian territory. Now with more help from Russian and Iran, he's gaining ground. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner called Assad's speech this week disappointing.
MARK TONER: He's sadly mistaken if he thinks there's a military solution in Syria.
KELEMEN: Toner acknowledges, though, that the situation on the ground has been turning in favor of Assad, whose forces also continue to block aid to hundreds of thousands of Syrians despite international calls for access.
TONER: Russia's support for Assad has bolstered the regime. It's unfortunate. But it's a reality.
KELEMEN: Still, the State Department doesn't sound ready for any sort of plan B. Toner notes that Russia and Iran are still members of the International Syria Support Group, which came up with a plan for a political transition, a cease-fire and aid access. And the U.S. still believes those countries have the influence needed in Damascus to keep this diplomacy from completely falling apart. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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