Syria’s Assad says Kurdish controlled northeast Syria must return to state authority

Syria's Assad says Kurdish controlled northeast Syria must return to state authority

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that his government’s ultimate goal was to restore state authority over Kurdish controlled areas in northeast Syria after an abrupt U.S. troop withdrawal but he expected it to happen gradually.

In a state television interview Assad also said that a deal between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to drive out the Kurdish-led YPG militia from a 30 km (19 mile) “safe zone” along the border was a “positive” step that would help Damascus achieve its goal.

“It might not achieve everything … it paves the road to liberate this area in the near future we hope,” said Assad, who has remained in power in Damascus through a more than eight-year-long civil war with the backing of Russia and Iran.

The U.S.-allied Kurdish YPG militia reached a deal with Damascus to take up positions near the border after U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement in early October that he was withdrawing American forces from northeast Syria. The YPG is the main fighting element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that has beaten back Islamic State in the region.

The withdrawal paved the way for a Turkish offensive against the Kurds and left them feeling abandoned by the United States and forcing them to work a deal with Damascus to help them resist Turkish forces. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organisation because of its links to Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey.

Assad also said Trump’s decision to keep a small number of U.S. troops in the Kurdish-held areas of Syria “where they have the oil” showed that Washington was a colonial power that was doomed to leave once Syrians resist their occupation as in Iraq.

But he said his country could not stand up to a great power such as the United States and that ending the presence of American troops on Syrian soil was not achievable soon.

Assad said Trump was the “best American president” for his “complete transparency” about intentions to maintain control of Syria’s main oilfields in Deir al-Zor province.