‘Final chapter’: Syrian FM on decisive battles, illegal US presence & post-war reconstruction
The Syrian government with the help of its allies is committed to liberate the country from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorist forces, hopefully by the end of the year, Walid Muallem told RT Arabic in an exclusive interview.
“The Syrian state intends to liberate every inch of our country from terrorists. If we manage to do this before the end of this year, then we will only be happy about it,” Muallem said.
At the start of the week, the Russian military said Syrian armed forces have regained control of some 87.4 percent of the country’s territory. Several crucial victories have been achieved over the last three months when the army managed to liberate over 55 percent of its territory, the Syrian diplomat noted.
Singling out the lifting of years-long blockade of Deir ez-Zor, and before that the liberation of Palmyra and Al-Sukhnah, Muallem stressed that these battles were of “equal in importance” to last year’s battle for the liberation of Aleppo.
“I say that the main battles in Syria are coming to an end, and, therefore, we are completing the last chapter in the history of the crisis,” Muallem stated.
The minister also shed light on how the Syrian government is planning to deal with the US-led coalition forces in Syria as the crisis winds down. The local Kurdish dominated militia and the US-trained Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are currently battling terrorists in Raqqa and to the east of Deir ez-Zor city, simultaneously vying for control of the province’s vast natural resources.
Until the fight with Islamic State and other terrorist groups is over, Damascus will pursue diplomatic channels to get the Americans out of Syria – and keep the Kurdish population as an inseparable part of the Syrian Arab Republic, the foreign minister said.
“First of all, we will knock on every diplomatic door, because American military presence in Syria is illegal,” Muallem said. “When diplomacy will become powerless, then we will examine different options.”
“Americans came to us, not the other way around. That is why we advocate sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Syria. We will act according to these principles,” he explained.
Moving on to the Kurdish question, Muallem outlined that Damascus is ready to negotiate greater autonomy with the Syrian Kurds as long as the don’t try to use Western backing as a leverage to split from the Syrian state.
“In Syria, the Kurds want to proclaim autonomy in one form or another within the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic. Negotiations and a dialogue are possible on the matter,” but only when the IS threat is eradicated, the diplomat added.
As fighting in Syria gradually nears its end and the majority of the population embrace the reconciliation efforts, Damascus is already planning how to tackle the massive reconstruction work that according to estimates may cost the country, which remains under Western sanctions, up to $300 billion.
“At the initial stage, we are talking about rebuilding the country within the capabilities of our state, the efforts of Syrian citizens and friendly states. And then we’ll see what other resources can be used,” Muallem said, underlining that refugees who fled the violence but now want to return home and rebuild their lives and country will be welcomed in Syria.
Muallem insisted that some of the reconstruction funds must be demanded from countries that have been sponsoring terrorism in Syria ever since the armed conflict began back in 2011.
“Countries that plotted against Syria should take part in the reconstruction of our country in order to make amends for the Syrian people for the acts they committed,” Muallem told RT on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week.
By opening its borders to international companies from friendly states, Syria hopes to raise even more money and drive the reconstruction process.
“Priority will be given to our friends who were on our side during our crisis,” Muallem emphasized.