August 14, 2018 / 6:38 AM / 3 months ago

Syrian Kurdish-led council visits Damascus for new talks: co-chair

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) went to Damascus last week for a second round of talks with the government, its co-chair said on Tuesday.

A delegation including members of the U.S.-backed SDF, which controls roughly a quarter of Syria, held talks with Damascus this month in their first declared visit to the capital.

The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to President Bashar al-Assad’s government, as they seek to negotiate a political deal that keeps their autonomy within Syria.

Negotiations could also raise new questions for U.S. policy in Syria, where the U.S. military has deployed into SDF territory during the battle against Islamic State.

The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, which has mostly avoided conflict with Assad and has said it aimed to secure Kurdish rights rather than topple the government.

This has set them apart from rebel factions fighting to bring down Assad since 2011, which have now been defeated in much of the territory they once held.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) went for new talks on decentralization and the constitution, co-chair Riad Darar said on Tuesday.

The “long dialogue” included a proposal from Damascus for the de facto autonomous region to take part in the state’s local elections next month, he told Reuters.

The SDC insists on preserving its structure of governance and self-rule in any future elections, he said. “The delegation from Qamishli decided it would return for more discussions.”

State officials tabled many issues that the SDC saw as premature, Darar added. “We need to agree on service provision first and this could build trust between us and with the people.”

The SDF seized swathes of land with U.S. help, though Washington opposes their ambitions of autonomy. The region they control spreads across much of northern and eastern Syria, rich in farmland, oil, and water.

Damascus says the U.S. forces are occupiers. For the first time, Assad said in May that he was “opening doors” for talks with the SDF, but also threatened force and said the Americans would leave one way or another.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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