Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his country’s ultimate goal is to restore state authority over Kurdish-controlled northeastern regions in the wake of an abrupt US troop withdrawal and a Turkish offensive against the Kurds there.
In an interview with state TV on Thursday, the Syrian president also said an agreement last week between Turkey and Russia to drive out Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants from a 30-kilometer “safe zone” along the border was a step that would help Damascus in regaining control, though gradually, over the northeastern areas.
The Turkey-Russia deal, which would halt the weeks-long Turkish invasion, calls for the withdrawal of Syrian Kurdish militants from areas along the Turkish border with the aim of establishing a “safe zone” that Ankara claims will be used to repatriate some of the three-million-plus Syrian refugees it currently hosts.
Assad said during the interview that agreement is “temporary.”
“We have to distinguish between ultimate or strategic goals… and tactical approaches,” he said, stressing that his forces will eventually reclaim territory taken by Ankara’s latest offensive.
The Kurdish YPG militia had reached a deal with Damascus to take up positions near the border after US President Donald Trump’s announcement of pullout of US troops in northeastern Syria left them feeling abandoned.
Assad, however, added that Damascus will not demand that armed groups there hand over weapons immediately when the army enters those areas in a final deal with the Kurds that restores state control.
‘Erdogan Syria’s enemy’
The Syrian head of state said he did not intend to call Turkey an “enemy”و but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and many Turkish political elite were enemies of Syria because of their hostility towards the Arab neighbor.
“We must ensure that we don’t turn Turkey into an enemy and here comes the role of friends” such as Russia and Iran, he said.
“Erdogan and his group are enemies, because he leads these policies, but until now most of the political forces in Turkey are against Erdogan’s policies,” he argued.
Assad noted that Iran and Russia, as state-guarantors of Syrian peace efforts, have been negotiating with Turkey over the past year.
Both Tehran and Moscow, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement have helped Syria with its war against foreign-backed militancy over the recent years.
The Syrian president asserted that Turkey had agreed as part of the Astana peace talks to end its presence in Idlib province. However, he said, the Syrian forces decided to liberate the province.
“The Turks did not abide by this agreement, but we are liberating Idlib,” he said.
“In the end, we liberated areas gradually through military operations. The same will apply in the northern region after exhausting all political options,” Assad added.