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July 30, 2018 12:12 am

Syrian Kurds Say They Will ‘Chart Road Map to Decentralized Syria’

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Kurdish security forces, July 23, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Azad Lashkari.

A Syrian Kurdish group said on Saturday it had decided with the government to “chart a road map to a democratic and decentralized Syria,” but there was no immediate confirmation from Damascus.

Relations between the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Kurdish-led administration in the northeast, the two sides that hold the most territory in Syria, have been pivotal over the course of a seven-year civil war.

However, while they have mostly avoided direct conflict, they have articulated sharply opposing visions for the future, with the Kurds seeking autonomy in a decentralized state and Damascus wanting to restore full central control.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) said it and the government had decided to “form committees on various levels” to develop negotiations, end the violence engulfing Syria, and chart a road map to democracy and decentralization.

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It said it met Syrian government officials in Damascus this week at Assad’s invitation after initial meetings in Tabqa on the Euphrates river that focused on restoring local services.

The SDC is the political wing of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which gained control of the quarter of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area that includes farmland and oil and water resources, during the fight against Islamic State.

The talks pointed to moves by the Kurdish-led authorities to seek a deal with Assad to preserve their autonomy as he regains most rebel areas with Russian and Iranian help, while the Kurds have grown wary of their unpredictable US ally.

Assad has sworn to regain “every inch” of Syria, but said in May for the first time that he was “opening doors” for talks with the SDF, while also threatening force. He has described the Kurdish administration’s democratic bodies in the northeast as “temporary structures.”

“It’s hard to see how they will reach more substantive agreement in the coming months, because you just have a huge gap between the two sides on what the future of this region should look like,” said Noah Bonsey, the International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst on Syria.

Any Kurdish negotiations with Damascus would also generate new questions for American policy in Syria, where the US military has deployed into SDF-held territory during the campaign against Islamic State insurgents.

The Syrian Kurds have been put on guard towards Washington over the Trump administration’s conflicting statements about its plans in Syria and pressure exerted on the United States by Turkey, which has staged military incursions into Syria to battle the YPG, a Kurdish militia that spearheads the SDF.

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