Moscow mediates talks between Assad & Syrian Kurds – Russian FM

Moscow mediates talks between Assad & Syrian Kurds – Russian FM
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that Moscow has been mediating talks between Damascus and the Syrian Kurds to help maintain Syria’s sovereignty and statehood, in an interview with Russia’s Izvestia daily.

Russia “makes efforts to establish a common understanding between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds for the sake of a united Syria,” the minister told Izvestia in an interview he gave ahead of Diplomat’s Day, a Russian holiday celebrated on February 10.

Lavrov went on to say that four rounds of negotiations, brokered by Russia and including direct contact between the Damascus delegation and “representatives of the political and public structures of the Syrian Kurds,” had already taken place between June and December in 2016. In addition, the gatherings also involved indirect talks between the two sides.

The Russian foreign minister also confirmed that the Syrian government had held talks with the leaders of the Syrian Kurds’ armed militia units, the YPG.

“We believe that such intra-Syrian dialog is useful,” Lavrov said, stressing that there is “significant potential for reaching agreements” between Damascus and the Kurds, as the sides have found many areas of common interest and their negotiations are developing positively.

Lavrov emphasized that “the Kurdish issue” is one of the “key” factors in maintaining Syrian statehood and contributing to the stabilization of the situation in the entire Middle East. He also drew attention to the fact that Russia is continuing its efforts to find compromises between various ethnic and religious groups in Syria, as it is interested in restoring peace and stability in the warn-torn country and defeating international terrorist organizations entrenched in some areas there.

Regarding Syria’s potential federalization, Russia’s top diplomat neither denied nor confirmed that the issue was discussed during the talks between the Syrian government and the Kurds.

The minister’s statements come as Russia also seeks to launch a peace process between the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups together with Turkey and Iran.

In December 2016, a nationwide ceasefire came into force in Syria. It was brokered by Moscow and Ankara and endorsed by the UN Security Council. While in late January, negotiations took place between official representatives from Damascus, Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as a delegation from the Syrian opposition in the Kazakh capital, Astana. However, the Syrian Kurds were not represented at the talks.

During the gathering, Russia submitted a draft document to serve as a “guide” for the Syrian constitution. The paper stressed that Syria’s territory is “inviolable and indivisible,” suggesting that restructuring of internal borders and proclaiming autonomous regions within Syria should be done only with respect to the country’s own laws. The rights of minorities were another key element of the draft.

In his interview with Izvestia, Lavrov also discussed other pressing issues in modern international politics. He once again criticized the NATO military buildup on Russian borders but expressed hope that Western politicians would eventually understand that Russia “poses no direct threat to NATO” and is a “peaceful country.”

Russia seeks “immediate de-escalation of the military and political situation in Europe” but is ready to defend its borders, Lavrov stressed.

He also went on to express his regret over the recent escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and urged Kiev to implement the Minsk Agreements, noting that there is no other way to resolve the crisis.

Touching upon the issue of US-Russian relations, Lavrov again confirmed that Russia is ready to work with the administration of new US President Donald Trump on a broad range of issues, yet “on the basis of mutual respect.”