STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Monday. The U.S. president-elect and the Russian president agreed to work together to improve U.S.-Russian relations. The next day, Russia launched what it called major airstrikes on rebel targets in Syria. And the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, resumed its bombing of the city of Aleppo.
Let's talk about all this with Jan Egeland, who is secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is on the ground in Syria providing humanitarian assistance. Welcome to the program.
JAN EGELAND: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: What is your sense of what Russia is trying to accomplish right now in Syria?
EGELAND: My sense is that they are building up to a major military offensive with the government of Syria and their allied forces on the ground. I'm very nervous for what it may bring for the civilian population.
In the last 48 hours, five hospitals, one mobile clinic and three ambulances were attacked by air in western rural Aleppo and then Idlib alone. And this is significant because these were places where the health workers on the ground were preparing to receive people that may be displaced from east Aleppo, that may also be attacked again very soon. So it couldn't be worse on the ground at the moment.
INSKEEP: What do you think about when you hear Donald Trump's prospective strategy for Syria? And we have to guess here. He's been vague. But we get the impression that he wants to focus solely on ISIS and drop any real concern about the Assad government, for example, and certainly drop any real opposition to whatever Russia is doing.
EGELAND: Well, what I need is the United States to be at least as engaged as she has been so far. We have, this year, seen more positive engagement between the U.S. and Russia. The few times where we've made real progress in accessing besieged areas, it's been because the United States and Russia have pulled together and actually exerted some pressure on the government of Syria but also on armed opposition groups that also have besieged or made problems for civilians.
If we do not have a joint engagement between the U.S. and Russia, it will be terrible. We need real effort by all the international sponsors, and we need the U.S. to stay engaged, uninterrupted in this transition period and in the new presidency.
INSKEEP: Have you found Russia to be helpful in your humanitarian work?
EGELAND: Well, Russia, has on several occasions, helped us beyond any doubt. They even placed soldiers at check points several times when we had problems with government forces that held back convoys to besieged areas. But we have no green light from Russia nor from the government of Syria of this all-important U.N. humanitarian initiative for east Aleppo. We want to bring food for more than a quarter of a million people. We want to bring medical relief to a medical sector that is kneeling under the number of wounded. And we want to evacuate those wounded who cannot be treated in east Aleppo. And we're still waiting for the green light from the Russians and the government of Syria. It seems that the armed opposition groups has now said yes to this plan.
INSKEEP: Jan Egeland is secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. Thank you very much.
EGELAND: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And he joined us by Skype.
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