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Syrian government looks to ramp up talks with embattled Kurds

January 13, 2019

The Syrian government is looking to ramp up talks with embattled Syrian Kurds, who played an integral role in ousting the Islamic State from its strongholds, as U.S. forces begin to withdraw from the war-torn nation.

Top officials with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime said Sunday it is seeking an “intensification” of talks between the government and U.S-backed Kurdish paramilitaries.

“Many of the Kurdish statements were positive regarding their concern for the unity of Syria,” Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sousan told reporters in Damascus about efforts by Syria’s Kurdish minority to seek reconciliation with the Assad regime.

“We are confident that through dialogue we can deal with some of the demands ... and this dialogue guarantees that, as long as it based on a commitment to Syria’s unity,” Mr. Sousan said, according to Reuters.

His comments came amid reports that Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces the U.S.-backed coalition of local paramilitary forces that spearheaded the ground fight against Islamic State had reached out to Russia to mediate talks between Kurds and the regime.

Russian and Iranian forces have played a key role in backing the Assad regime’s ongoing civil war against Syrian separatists groups.

Recent reports say that Russian and Syrian forces have begun joint patrols around the Syrian city of Manbij. The northeastern city so far has been the main training and logistics hub for the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops deployed in Syria.

On Friday, U.S. and allied commanders began withdrawing troops from Syria, despite conflicting messages from top diplomats and national security officials in the Trump administration.

Coalition officials declined to provide details on withdrawal efforts, or when the last of the U.S. forces would leave. The U.S.-led coalition in Syria “has begin the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said Friday in a statement.

“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements” with regard to the withdrawal, he added.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Sean Roberston said Washington has undertaken “a number of logistical measures to support an ordered withdrawal,” but no U.S. forces have begun exiting the country.

“We [can] confirm that there has been no redeployment of military personnel from Syria to date,” Cmdr. Robertson said late Friday in a statement.

News of Damascus’ overtures toward the Kurds comes day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the withdrawl, saying that the move does not represent “a change of mission” in Syria and that U.S. air and logistic support would continue.

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