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Syrian Kurdish official eyes possible talks with Damascus

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria may open talks with Damascus and Russia to fill a security vacuum in the event of a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Turkish border area, a Syrian Kurdish official said on Tuesday.

Badran Jia Kurd’s comments to Reuters reflect the predicament facing Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria following a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops who have effectively shielded the area from Turkish attack.

The United States withdrew 50 American special forces from a section of the Turkish border on Monday, opening the way for Turkey to stage a long-threatened incursion against Syrian Kurdish-led forces that it deems as terrorists.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has described the U.S. decision as “a stab in the back”. Spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, the SDF has been a major part of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State.

“If America vacates the area and especially the border area for certain we, as a self administration and as the SDF, will be forced to study all the available options,” Jia Kurd told Reuters.

“At that time we may hold talks with Damascus or the Russian side to fill the void or block the Turkish attack, so this may develop and there could be meetings and contacts in case of a vacuum,” he said.

Turkey said on Tuesday it had completed preparations for a military operation in the northeast. It views the YPG as a terrorist organization because of its links to Kurdish militants who have waged a long insurgency in Turkey.

The Kurdish-led administration found itself in a similar position in late 2018 when President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. The SDF held talks in Damascus that broke down without progress.

Despite enmity between Syrian Kurds and Damascus, the result of years of systematic persecution of Kurds under the rule of the Baathist government, the dominant Syrian Kurdish groups have seldom fought the Syrian government during the war.

While the Syrian rebellion has fought to topple President Bashar al-Assad, the YPG says its priority is to maintain regional autonomy as part of the Syrian state.

Damascus however is loathe to cede the Kurds the level of autonomy they seek. The government earlier this year threatened the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces with military defeat if they did not agree to a return of state authority.

Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean