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New U.S.-Russia Resolution Outlines ISIS Strategy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The United States and Russia may be getting closer to a coordinated approach in Syria. The U.N. Security Council backed a U.S.-Russia resolution this week that outlined a path toward defeating ISIS and ending the Civil War in Syria. And President Putin told his annual year-end press conference that Russia and the U.S. have narrowed their differences. Zbigniew Brzezinski is a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Of course, he was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. And he joins us now from his office in Washington, D.C. Mr. Brzezinski, thanks so much for being with us.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I'm delighted.

SIMON: The two countries have narrowed their differences and that presumably includes Crimea, Ukraine, Syria. How does narrowing their differences sound to you?

BRZEZINSKI: It sounds hopeful but far from definitive. We have a long way to go to resolve our disagreements on either one of these two issues. But at least it is movement in the right direction. And it has in it the potential for being quite constructive in its consequences.

SIMON: Does it involve any change in Russian behavior or policy?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I would hope so because some of those unresolved issues are derived from the fact that Russia has not lived up to some of the commitments that were negotiated regarding those issues. And of course there are more deeper longer term conflicts between the two parties. So in any case, whatever is involved here, it is promising though not yet definitive.

SIMON: The resolution calls for a cease-fire in six months. Realistically, wouldn't that be half a year in which the Assad regime, with Russian assistance probably, could use their superior military resources to try and crush the opposition before they even sit down to negotiate?

BRZEZINSKI: I don't think that realistically it means that they could crush them. Of course it would give Assad and his supporters more opportunity to attempt to crush them, but they haven't been able to crush them. And I don't think the balance of fighting over the last several years has been all that favorable to Assad. So I think more likely is an outcome in which there are more casualties, more destruction, more loss of life.

SIMON: So what's the advantage in a six-month waiting period for a cease-fire?

BRZEZINSKI: I don't think they agreed to have a waiting period. I think this is a prognosis - a hopeful prognosis - and that might even entertain the notion that perhaps it could be sooner. I think if the United States and Russia, and Russia using its influence on Syria comes along also, then perhaps there might be more tangible progress in less time than six months.

SIMON: And what are the common interests, as you see it, that the United States and Russia have in Syria?

BRZEZINSKI: I would suspect that both sides are concerned about the possibility of what has been happening in Syria becoming increasingly contagious, contagious in the region, devastating whatever elements of stability exist around Syria. And in the case of Russia, they could involve also a gradual spread of the violence, the fanaticism, the brutality to incite Russia where there are some 20 million Muslims living, not all of whom are quite happy to be part of Russia.

SIMON: This is a little off the topic of Syria, but I can't resist asking you. What do you make of President Putin and Donald Trump's mutual admiration society in recent days?

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, I think it's charming.

SIMON: (Laughter).

BRZEZINSKI: Charming. And I think each one deserves the other.

SIMON: Zbigniew Brzezinski, thanks very much for speaking with us.

BRZEZINSKI: Good to speak to you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.