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U.S. And Turkey Discuss Strengthening Syrian Opposition

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The players in the Iranian nuclear talks are also keeping a close eye on what is happening in Syria. Vice President Joe Biden just wrapped up a three-day visit to Turkey where he announced a boost in U.S. aid for Syrian refugees. But there are still major differences between the U.S. and Turkey about how to defeat the so-called Islamic State. The U.S. wants Turkey to play a bigger role in fighting ISIS. Turkey wants the U.S. to focus on plans to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Istanbul.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: A strained alliance seems back on track. That was the message as two leaders smiled for the cameras. In extended talks, Biden and the Turkish president discuss ways to defeat the Islamic State, strengthen Syria's moderate opposition and push for a political transition away from the Assad regime in Syria.

They described the agenda in a joint news conference, but gave no hints they'd bridge sharp differences in strategy or settle Turkey's role in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamist militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Turkey has agreed to train and equip Syria's moderate rebels, but wants the U.S. to back a no-fly zone in northern Syria where the rebels would be protected from the Syrian Air Force. And here's why. As the U.S. kicked off air strikes against Islamist militants, the Assad regime stepped up attacks on moderate rebels.

The Turks say the U.S. strategy has actually strengthened the Assad regime. Some officials in Washington have come to acknowledge the unintended consequences, says Brian Katulis with the Center for American Progress in Washington.

BRIAN KATULIS: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagle on the record acknowledged that our air campaign may have given some advantage to the Assad regime. It makes it seem as if the Assad regime will be able to sweep back into those areas that it lost.

AMOS: But the regime doesn't have the resources to exert control in those areas. Instead, says Katulis, there's a breakdown of any authority, and it's in the chaos of northern Syria that the Islamist militants thrive.

KATULIS: The Obama administration said that it wanted to see a transition from Assad without getting a failed state in Syria. We're actually getting the reverse. We're getting a failed state and Assad is still in power.

AMOS: That's the equation that worries the Turks with Syria right next door, the Islamic State on the border and more than a million and a half refugees settled across Turkey's southern frontier. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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