In Diplomatic First, Kurdish Syrians Invited to Moscow for Peace Talks

Russia would mediate a congress aimed at ending the 6-year Syrian conflict

Iraqi Kurdish students hold posters of Iraqi Kurdish leader in his support in Arbil, the capital of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, on October 30, 2017.
SAFIN HAMED/AFP

Russia has invited the Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria to its proposed congress of Syria's rival parties in November, a senior Kurdish official said on Tuesday, as Moscow seeks to launch a new initiative to end the Syrian conflict.

"We are studying the issue and our stance has been positive so far," Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the administration that governs Kurdish-led autonomous regions of Syria, told Reuters.

It would mark the first time Syria's main Kurdish groups have been brought into peace talks. Although they now control at least a quarter of Syria, Kurdish authorities have so far been left out of international talks in line with Turkish wishes.

After intervening decisively in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia has aimed to lead diplomacy efforts among the various combatants over the past year. Moscow has said the congress will focus on "compromise solutions" towards ending the conflict, which began more than six years ago with street protests against the Syrian leader.

A spokesman for the Syrian opposition, which wants peace talks to take place under U.N. supervision, described the proposed congress as "really worrying". It was unclear what the aims were and who would join, said Yahya al-Aridi.

Several rounds of U.N. talks in Geneva between the Damascus government and the anti-Assad opposition have gone nowhere.

Russia invited 33 Syrian groups and political parties on Tuesday to a "Syrian Congress on National Dialogue" which it will host on Nov. 18 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

They include Kurdish groups and anti-Assad rebel factions.

The Kurdish-led administration received the invitation at meetings with Russian officials in northern Syria last month and favor the idea as it strives for a political solution, Jia Kurd said. Kurdish officials say they have been in talks with Russia to assess the prospects for dialogue with the Syrian government.

Since 2011, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and its allies have carved out autonomous cantons in the north. Their territorial grip has expanded since they joined forces with the United States to fight Islamic State militants.

But Turkey views Syrian Kurdish power as a national security threat along its border. Ankara considers the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK movement that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent warplanes to help Assad's military against mostly Sunni rebels in 2015, first mentioned the congress earlier this month.

Putin has said it would include "all ethnic and religious groups, and the government, and the opposition".

Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, said Damascus was ready to take part in the congress and that the time was now more appropriate to join such talks after its military victories.

Since Russia's intervention in 2015, the government has taken back significant territory from rebels opposed to Assad and has this year recaptured swathes of central and eastern Syria from Islamic State.

Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria might also be used for the congress, said Alexander Lavrentyev, a senior Russian negotiator on Syria. The proposal has received backing from the United Nations, Lavrentyev told reporters in Kazakhstan on Monday.