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We turn now to the civil war in Syria. Diplomats met in Switzerland today to discuss the crisis, but the United Nations special envoy on Syria says they have again failed to agree on a date for a peace conference. He had hoped for such a conference to begin later this month. And while those attempts to start formal talks stumble along, aid workers are struggling to respond to the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: At the end of a day of meetings in Geneva, first with U.S. and Russian diplomats, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was downbeat about the prospects for a conference.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: We were hoping that we would be in a position to announce a date today. Unfortunately, we are not. But we are still striving to see if we can have the conference before the end of the year.
KELEMEN: Brahimi says he and U.N. secretary-general are growing impatient because the humanitarian crisis just keeps getting worse.
BRAHIMI: The United Nations is saying now there is more than nine million people who are directly affected, nine million. That is almost half the population of Syria.
KELEMEN: The envoy says the only solution is a political one but the rebels say they won't agree to attend a conference as long as Bashar al-Assad remains Syria's president. The regime has signaled it won't negotiate Assad out of power, and the U.S. and Russia disagree over whether Iran, which is backing the Syrian regime, should be at the table. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, says Iran must first accept the premise of a conference to form a transitional government and be part of the solution in other ways.
AMBASSADOR SAMANTHA POWER: Every country that has leverage over any party in the ground should be using that leverage to save lives. That includes Iran, that includes all member states, that includes all individuals who know people who know people. That's how urgent the humanitarian situation is and how devastating the circumstances are.
KELEMEN: Power was speaking in New York after hearing a briefing about the one issue that seems to be going well in Syria, the effort to rid the country of its chemical weapons. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.