Iran adds to criticism of US-trained Kurdish force in Syria
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran added its voice to criticism of a U.S. plan to form a new border security force in Syria, saying Tuesday that it will cause more instability and “add flames” to the war-torn country.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the planned Kurdish-led force will further complicate the conflict in Syria and is a “blatant intervention” in that country’s internal affairs. Ghasemi’s comments were carried by Iran’s official IRNA news agency.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later told the visiting Syrian parliament speaker that the U.S. plan is a “plot” against Syria’s territorial integrity and security, according to comments posted on the president’s website.
The new force announced by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group also is exacerbating tensions between NATO member Turkey and the United States. And U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Syria’s deputy foreign minister also opposed it.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vowed to “drown this army of terror before it is born.” He warned U.S. troops against coming between Turkish troops and the Kurdish forces in Syria that Ankara views as an extension of Turkey’s own Kurdish insurgency.
Turkey has threatened to launch a new military operation against the main Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, in the Kurdish-held Afrin enclave in northern Syria. The YPG is the backbone of a Syrian force that drove the Islamic State group from much of northern and eastern Syria with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes.
U.N. chief Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that “too many countries have had troops in Syria.”
“I think if the Syrian people could be able to solve alone its (cq) problems, it would probably be much better,” he said.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faysal Mekdad, denounced the nascent U.S. force and said anyone who cooperates with it is a “traitor” who would meet defeat and death. Russia has criticized the plan as well, saying it could fuel tensions around Afrin.
The U.S.-led coalition says the force, expected to reach 30,000 in the next several years, is a key element of its strategy to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State group in Syria and would be deployed along Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq.
Some 230 cadets have already been recruited to the new border force, according to the coalition.
Elsewhere in Syria, two civilians were killed and three others were wounded by insurgent shelling of Aleppo city, the state-run news agency SANA reported.
It quoted the Aleppo Police Command as saying that “terrorists” in the western outskirts of Aleppo fired a number of shells, one of which fell on a kindergarten bus, killing the driver and a two-year-old child and wounding three teachers.
SANA also said a woman was killed and five civilians were wounded by two projectiles that fell on the town of al-Saan in central Syria.
The media office of the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission said Tuesday that the next round of Syria peace talks will take place in Vienna later this month.
A Vienna venue for the indirect talks between the Syrian government and the opposition would be a first under the mediation of U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
His office declined to comment. De Mistura’s team has hosted eight rounds of largely unproductive talks over the past two years in Geneva.
U.N. secretary-general Guterres told reporters a new round of talks will be held in Geneva “or probably ... another location close to Geneva, and we hope that this time it will be possible to have constructive dialogue between government and opposition.”
The U.N. has asked both sides not to impose any preconditions for talks and he said in light of that he will not impose a precondition on whether Syrian President Bashar Assad should remain in power or step down.
The U.N. said Tuesday that fighting between government forces and insurgents in northwestern Syria has displaced more than 200,000 people since mid-December, including some who had already fled fighting elsewhere. Most are heading for safer areas near the Turkish border.
Government forces launched an offensive last month on the southern edge of the northwestern Idlib province, which is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants and home to more than 2.6 million Syrians, including more than a million displaced from other areas.
Jamey Keaten contributed from Geneva and Edith M. Lederer from the United Nations.