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Fmr. Chief of Staff for Colin Powell, Larry Wilkerson, says the ceasefire could be key to lasting peace in Syria

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of the Wilkerson Report. Now joining us from Falls Church, Virginia is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s also currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary, and of course he’s a regular contributor to the Real News. Thanks so much for joining us, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, recently there’s been a ceasefire that’s been brokered between the major parties involved in the Syrian war. I wanted to just get your take on that, and just explain to us the details of that ceasefire. WILKERSON: I don’t pretend, Jessica, to know all the details, but I think what I’m seeing is a situation that has been brought about by the fact that Russia did what it did in intervening, and we responded to that and what we have as a result of that, and there are other complexities here that I’m not talking about, but what’s happened as a result of that is we have a Russian side that has given Assad the ability to put himself in a strategic position vis-a-vis those forces opposing him, with which, I wouldn’t say he’s comfortable, but at least he’s comfortable leaving it and going to substantial political problems. At the same time, those entities which we control, or at least have some influence over on the other side of the struggle of the civil war in Syria, have more or less grudgingly agreed to the same thing, and what I’m told is, they have mostly because the United States, in response to Russia’s offer to do this with Assad, has said that it will get others in the region, and we all know who those others are, from transporting arms in the Syria to arm and to fortify, and resupply, and give ammunition to the opposition groups, to whom they’d be giving it. That was mostly coming through Turkey. We have proof that this is working right now, short term proof, to be sure, but we hope it holds, because arms are not passing through those usual points in Turkey right now. So if this is the case, if we’ve got this sort of precarious stability right now, and it’s a peace attempt, if you will, a ceasefire, and that can lead to real political talks, then we may be looking at the incipient, you know, the beginnings of the end of the Syrian civil war. That would allow two things to happen, I think. One, it will allow the forces that remain, that aren’t still fighting, and there will be a few that’ll still be fighting, but the forces that remain can consolidate and get ISIS out of Syria, eliminate ISIS in Syria as much as is possible, anyway. Never going to get rid of them entirely. And at the same time, move on to the second step of this, which would be to have political transition, whatever it might be, whatever is agreed to, so that we re-establish a legitimate government for Syria and we have an end of the war and we have a governing process that can sustain the end of that war. DESVARIEUX: I also want to bring up some news that happened over the weekend. On Sunday you actually had Assad’s regime take over a major city in central Syria from the Islamic State– WILKERSON: –Palmyra– DESVARIEUX: Yes, exactly, and they’re saying that might be one of the biggest defeats against Islamic State in Syria to ever take place thus far. So what do you make of that action in relation to the ceasefire that’s currently being enforced? WILKERSON: I think two things. One, anything Assad does to defeat ISIS is okay with Russia and okay with the United States and probably the other parties now, too, with the exception of these people who are arming them. Need I say any more, that the lead character there is Saudi Arabia? And it also gives Assad a feeling, as I said before, of strategic comfort with regard to his ability to control enough of Syria so that when he goes into the political talks he feels like he has sufficient leverage to do the talks. This is important. You’ve got to have each side in these talks, I think, feel that they have something to gain from the talks, and that they have a position of negotiation, if you will, in the talks. And that’s, I think, roughly been established now. So I’m hoping, I’m praying, that we may be looking at the beginning of the end of the Syrian civil war. DESVARIEUX: And the Syrian Kurds have actually put out a proposal, Larry, as well, laying out what they would like to see for a future Syria, and the major, major thing that’s come out of it is that they’re calling for sort of a federation style democracy there in Syria. What do you think is the likelihood of something like that taking place? WILKERSON: I think we’ve got a very precarious situation with the Kurds’ writ large right now, because if you’ve been following the news, I’m sure you have, we’ve got a real problem in southeastern Turkey right now, major terrorist attacks against the Turks, casualties, major Turkish responses against the PKK. You’ve got Turkey, again, extensively bombing the PKK in northern Iraq. Don’t know if that’s in agreement with the more or less peaceful Kurds in northern Iraq or not, but you have real turmoil and it’s focused in the Kurdish community in Turkey, in northern Iraq and in Syria, and so asking for an autonomous region within Syria that might be part of a political settlement is okay, but we’ve got to be very careful about how we do this, because we’re dealing with perhaps one of the potentially most volatile aspects of settling this situation and stabilizing Iraq, and giving Erdogan in Turkey less reason to be so authoritarian and so draconian as he goes after the Kurds in southeastern Turkey. So, yes, to answer your question, the Kurds are a very important part of this. DESVARIEUX: All right. Larry Wilkerson joining us from Falls Church, Virginia. Thank you so much for being with us. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.