Damascus says Syrian Kurdish autonomy negotiable
BEIRUT - ReutersThe Syrian government is open to negotiations with Kurds over their demand for autonomy within Syria’s borders, the foreign minister has said, striking a conciliatory tone as military tensions worsen between the sides in eastern Syria.
Walid al-Moualem said the government could discuss the Kurdish demand once Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is defeated, state news agency SANA reported, citing an interview with Russia Today.
“This topic is open to negotiation and discussion and when we are done eliminating Daesh [ISIL], we can sit with our Kurdish sons and reach an understanding on a formula for the future,” Moualem said.
The Syrian Kurdish YPG, controls a swathe of northern Syria where the main Kurdish party, the PYD, and its allies have established autonomy since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.
Both groups are considered as terrorist groups by turkey for their ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Syrian Kurds say their aim is to preserve that autonomy as part of a decentralized Syria, and they do not aim to follow the path of Kurds in Iraq who held an independence referendum on Sept. 25.
Moualem reiterated his government’s rejection of that referendum, saying Damascus supported Iraqi unity, but he noted that Syria’s Kurds “want a form of autonomy within the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic.”
Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria held elections last week to choose local community leaders, the first stage of a three-phase process that will culminate in January with the election of a parliament.
The YPG has been a major partner for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL in eastern and northern Syria, fighting as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance (SDF).
While the YPG and Damascus have mostly avoided confrontation, tensions have flared as the U.S.-backed SDF and the Russian-backed Syrian army wage separate campaigns against ISIL in Deir ez-Zor province.
The SDF accused the Syrian government and its Russian ally of striking its fighters on Sept. 25, something Moscow denied.
Earlier this year, Moualem characterized the Syrian Kurdish battle against ISIL as legitimate and suggested an accommodation could be reached with the Syrian Kurds. President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to take back the whole of Syria.