Syria Kurds seek talks with Assad amid Arab normalisation

Syria Kurds seek talks with Assad amid Arab normalisation
The Kurdish-led administration in northern and eastern Syria said it was ready for talks with the Assad regime, soon after Saudi Arabia's foreign minister visited Damascus
3 min read
The Kurdish-led autonomous administration and the associated SDF control most of northeastern Syria [Getty]

Syria's semi-autonomous Kurdish administration said it was ready for talks with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad as the latter's ties with Arab states thaw more than a decade after the country's conflict broke out.

The Assad regime rejects the Kurdish-led "Autnomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria" (AANES) and accuses it of "separatism".

Several rounds of talks since 2018 between the regime and AANES - which controls most of the country's major oil and gas fields - have failed to achieve any results.

"We affirm our readiness to meet and talk with the Syrian government and with all Syrian parties to hold discussions and present initiatives for a solution," the Kurdish-led authorities said.

The statement denied any separatist ambitions, "affirming Syria's territorial integrity" and calling for Syria's resources to be shared "fairly".

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), AANES's de facto army, played a major role in fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, driving it from its last stronghold in the country in 2019 with US backing.

Assad has been politically isolated in the region since Syria's conflict began in 2011, but Arab states accelerated normalisation of relations with the dictator following a devastating February 6 earthquake that killed thousands in Turkey and Syria.

Over 500,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced in the conflict, mostly by regime bombardment of civilian areas.

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A flurry of diplomatic activity has been underway in past weeks as Middle East rivals Saudi Arabia and the Syrian government's ally Iran patched up ties, shifting regional relations.

On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with Assad in Damascus, in the first visit by a Saudi official since the conflict began.

The pair discussed steps to achieve a political settlement for the Syrian regime's return to the Arab fold, according to the Saudi foreign ministry.

Last week, diplomats from nine Arab countries met in Saudi Arabia to discuss ending the regime's long spell in the diplomatic wilderness, and Syria's foreign minister visited Saudi Arabia for the first time in over a decade.

The Kurdish-led authorities in the statement urged "Arab countries, the United Nations and international forces... to play an active and positive role in searching for a common solution".

They said they were ready to share resources including oil and gas "through an agreement with the Syrian government" following "dialogue and negotiation".

Turkey has also made overtures towards the regime in recent months, stoking further fears among Syria's Kurds.

Ankara considers the People's Protection Units (YPG) - which dominate the SDF - as an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.

"Any party or individual working for a foreign power is simply a traitor and a collaborator," Assad told broadcaster Russia Today in an interview last month, when asked about the YPG.