SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. You might be forgiven for thinking the situation in Syria has improved in recent weeks. There is a U.N. observer mission on the ground led by an experienced Norwegian General, and they're seven weeks into a diplomatic initiative which the secretary general of the United Nations says is the only option on the table. But on Thursday, dozens of people died when two bombs went off in Damascus. The attacks destroyed the Syrian intelligence agency and injured hundreds of civilians and members of the security forces. This, as attacks on rebels forces by the Syrian government continue, any hope of a ceasefire dwindles. Mass protest took place yesterday. We're joined now from New York by Kieran Dwyer. He's the chief spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping department. Mr. Dwyer, thanks for being with us.
KIERAN DWYER: It's a pleasure.
SIMON: General Robert Mood and his team of observers have been on the ground for several weeks. There are reportedly outbreaks of fighting almost daily. Had you hoped for something better?
DWYER: We certainly had hoped that the parties - all sides - would abide by their commitments and completely cease violence. We were not naive about that, but we are giving the parties a chance to do that, and trying to affect conditions on the ground by being an impartial observer presence. Today, we are at 145 military observers now in the country plus 50-odd international civilian staff. And they are spread now around six different locations in the country. So, they are having some impact, but it's absolutely correct but it's not stopping the violence at this point. And that is of great concern.
SIMON: How do they fill their days? What do they do?
DWYER: When they see instances of violence, they report that, they look into that, they liaise with the opposition forces and try and have them abide by their commitments. Now, we don't have an enforcement capacity. We can't enforce either the government or the opposition forces to stop the violence. That's not what power we have. But we are trying through our presence to have them stick by their commitments.
SIMON: I want to quote a couple of things to you that Jay Carney, the spokesman at the White House, said recently. Quote, "If the regimes intransigence" - he means the Assad's regime's intransigence - "continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat." And he said, again I quote, "It is clear and we will not deny that the plan has not been succeeding thus far." Do you agree?
DWYER: We are not going to sort of talk about success or defeat. We have to fulfill the mandate that we're given. We will seek to create the conditions that would allow the parties to withdraw from the violence. That is what our job is.
SIMON: Mr. Dwyer, you're, I gather, in pretty good communication with the folks on the ground.
DWYER: Correct. I speak with Damascus every day.
SIMON: They find this mission frustrating?
DWYER: They find it immensely challenging on a day-by-day basis, a moment-by-moment basis. If you watch the images from the country when the observers go out into communities, you'll see them surrounded by citizens who have huge expectations, this handful of observers could help bring the conditions for peace in their country. Of course, we would like to deliver peace today. We don't have it in our mandate or our authority to do that. But these are very brave individuals who are stepping out into an extremely volatile situation.
SIMON: Mr. Dwyer, let me put this to you very bluntly. Do you have any concern that this mission provides what amounts to a fig leaf for the Assad regime to continue to crush, violently crush, the opposition?
DWYER: I don't believe the Security Council would simply let this situation roll on. They made it very clear this week that they see this mission as being on the ground in order to help create the conditions for political dialogue, not to see a freeze in the situation that allows perpetual violence. So, I do not believe that this mission will be used by anyone as a fig leaf. I don't believe the United Nations will let that happen.
SIMON: Kieran Dwyer, chief spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping department, speaking from the U.N. in New York. Thanks so much.
DWYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.