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US seeks to prevent Damascus, Kurds from improving relations — Assad

According to the Syrian president, the war in Syria will end with victory over terrorism, not with the adoption of the Constitution
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad SANA via AP, File
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
© SANA via AP, File

MOSCOW, November 15. /TASS/. Washington seeks to prevent Damascus and the Kurds from building dialogue following a thaw in relations in the wake of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 round-the-clock television news channel.

According to Assad, signs of progress in relations between Damascus and the Kurds emerged following Ankara’s military operation in northeastern Syria. "Russia plays an important role in this regard," he added. "As for resolving issues, we sometimes move forward and other times take a step back for various reasons. One of the reasons is that the United States is putting pressure on armed groups active in Syria to prevent them making agreements with the government, which comes as no surprise," the Syrian president pointed out.

At the same time, in Assad’s words, the Syrian authorities maintain dialogue even with US-backed Kurdish groups. "The Americans supported Kurdish units and put the Kurds in command [of opposition forces] to create the impression that areas [in northeastern Syria] belong to the Kurds, and to drive a wedge between the Kurds and other ethnic groups in Syria. However, we maintain dialogue. It continued throughout the war although we know that some of these units cooperate with the Americans and report to them. The Americans provide them with weapons and funds, and write statements for them, but it doesn’t mean that the Kurds are not patriots," the Syrian president noted.

He added that since the Syrian army has returned to the country’s northeast, the authorities "are trying to convince" groups acting "at Washington’s instruction" that full respect for the country’s constitution would make it possible to ensure stability. "As the Syrian army is regaining control, state institutions are being restored," Assad pointed out.

Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said earlier that Russia’s Hmeymim air base had hosted talks between Damascus and the Kurds. He was hopeful that dialogue between the parties would advance efforts to restore Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Enlisting Kurds in Syrian army

Assad said that Syrian authorities are willing to enlist Kurdish units in the government forces to push back against Turkey in northern Syria but the Kurds are not ready for that yet. 

Assad noted that after Russia and Turkey signed the memorandum, the Syrian Defense Ministry is officially set to accept Kurdish People's Protection Units fighters into the regular army as part of programs that will take into account the region's specifics. "However, the official answer as we see it was the following — they [Kurds — TASS] are now not ready to join the Syrian army and intend to keep hold of the arms in these regions," he revealed.

According to the president, Damascus is trying to persuade Kurdish units with the Russian help "that joining the Syrian army and fight against the Turkish invaders is a right and correct position to return territories lost in North Syria."

Victory over terrorism

The Syrian conflict will end as soon as complete victory over terrorism has been achieved, and not with the adoption of the country’s new Constitution, President Bashar al-Assad stated.

"There have been attempts to create an impression that the conflict’s settlement depends on the work of the constitutional committee. The hostilities in Syria began not over disagreements concerning the Constitution. The war in Syria began because terrorists were killing military, police and civilians and also because they were ruining infrastructures. The war will end when we put an end to all this," Assad said.

"We believe that from time to time it is necessary to analyze the Constitution just like any other document and to make amendments in accordance with Syria’s new realties. It is not the Holy Scripture. We have no problems with this, so we chose this way," he added.

Asked by the interviewer if a conflict between Russia and the United States was possible, Assad replied that it was not in Syria’s interests. "Of course, we would not like to see a clash between the United States and Russia. This is obvious and not beneficial either to us or Russia or world stability. It is dangerous," he stated.

Split of the country

Neither the Syrian leadership nor the country’s people will ever agree to the dismembering of their country, Bashar al-Assad claimed. "Neither the authorities nor the people will agree to any separatist proposals either today or tomorrow," Assad said.

"The groups that receive support from the United States say that the situation has changed after the war. Of course, the situation has changed. It’s natural. Any war changes a great deal in society. But war is not a reason for dismembering the country. It gives no right to separatism, abolition of the Constitution or weakening of the state," he added.

Assad is certain that the war has made his country stronger. "We will categorically disagree with the idea of dismembering under any circumstance," he stated.

Asked by the interviewer if there were any insoluble problems with the Kurds, Assad replied: "There are problems only with some Kurds. Let me say once again that most Kurds have lived in Syria for decades without any problems. There are some radical groups, radical in the political sense. They keep pressing for separatist ideas. Some of these ideas imply federalization or autonomous Kurdish government. As I’ve already said, Syria’s northeast is an Arab region. If somebody is really entitled to seeking federalization, it’s the Arabs, because they are in the majority there. It’s obvious."

Kurdish issue

On October 9, Ankara launched a new military operation in northern Syria dubbed Peace Spring, which began with airstrikes on positions of Kurdish units. The objective is to create a buffer zone in northern Syria where Syrians refugees could return, Ankara claims. The buffer zone will also establish a security belt for the Turkish border. The Syrian SANA news agency branded the operation as aggression, while the international community condemned Ankara’s actions.

On October 13, SANA reported that Damascus had struck a deal with Kurds and sent troops to northern Syria to oppose the Turkish army. In the next few days, the Syrian army took control over a number of cities and towns in Kurdish regions without any fighting, including Al-Tabqah, Manbij, Raqqa and Kobani. On October 17, Syrian army units reached the Turkish border.

On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a memorandum on joint actions in northeastern Syria. According to the document, as of noon October 23, Russian military police and Syrian border guards started to monitor the withdrawal of Kurdish military formations to the depth of 30 km from the border. On the outcomes of the agreement, Ankara stated that it had suspended its large-scale military operation in the area. However, Turkey retains control over the territories where it plans to relocate Syrian refugees in the future.

The deadline for the Kurdish forces to withdraw expired on October 29, 18:00 local time. Turkey and Russia began joint patrolling in northeastern Syria on November 1.

At the same time, clashes between Kurdish troops and Turkish military along with Syrian opposition forces that support them continue. The United States also stay firm in the region, even though US President Donald Trump announced intention to pull out American troops from the area where Turkey was conducting its military operation in late October. He then pointed out that Washington intends to keep control over oil fields in northeast Syria.