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Another international player gets involved in Syrian Kurdish rapprochement

A British delegation recently visited the Kurdish region in Syria and met with rival Kurdish parties.

delegation from the British Foreign Office recently visited northern and eastern Syria. It arrived in Syrian Kurdistan on Aug. 21 with the goal of removing obstacles to reconciliation between the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD). According to news reports, the British move comes in coordination with the United States.

An informed Kurdish source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the British delegation consisted of Emily Maltman, head of the UK Syria office representing the British government to Syrians, and Carla Thomas, in charge of the department of development organizations at the UK Foreign Office.

The British delegation held three meetings of about two hours each. It met with officials in the KNC, the Yekiti Kurdistan Party-Syria and then the autonomous administration, formed and led by the PYD.

“The British delegation did not visit Syria with the intention of holding dialogue sessions or a Kurdish-Kurdish rapprochement. The Kurdish media exaggerated,” the source noted, quoting the delegation as saying, “We support the French initiative and we do not aim to replace it; we simply came to listen to what you had to say.” The French initiative had not failed, said the source — its implementation was rather delayed. 

France is seeking to play a major role in the Kurdish-Kurdish rapprochement, and has previously called to arrange Kurdish affairs in the east of the Euphrates, and pave the way for internal Kurdish understandings in Syria. The Kurdish-Kurdish dispute remains focused on regional control and the future vision of governance in Syria.

“The delegation did not present any vision for a solution throughout Syria, nor did it show interest in finding any solutions, whether at the Syrian national level in general or when it comes to the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue,” the source noted.

The source added that the delegation listened to the visions of all parties and discussed the humanitarian and relief aspects, explaining that the visit might have had hidden reasons behind it. “It [the visit] could be in response to US pressure on the UK to engage in the east of the Euphrates issue,” after the UK and France agreed to increase the number of their troops in Syria from 10% to 15%. France and Britain are the only two countries in the international coalition against the Islamic State with ground troops in Syria; these additional troops will serve as a substitute to the US forces if they were to withdraw.

Foreign Policy reported that the timetable and the number of troops remain unknown, as both France and the UK have a special interest in increasing the number of troops, as they no longer have much influence in the opposition areas in the north, northwest, and south of Syria after the regime forces advanced with Russia’s support.

They can then play an active part in preventing the release of IS detainees who are being held in Syria, either by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or by other parties. This could also ensure greater effectiveness and influence in the region, thus a positive, key role in the next phase between the autonomous administration and KNC.

All parties that met with the British delegation mentioned how friendly the sessions were. The source added that the talks focused on the safe zone east of the Euphrates, and the different parties’ expectations and readings for the future of the region and Syria.

Author and human rights activist Imran Mansour told Al-Monitor over the phone from Paris about the importance of international initiatives and the need for the international coalition to support them, although he does not trust the British or French initiatives can be a success.

“These initiatives cannot succeed in the absence of transparency between the concerned parties,” he noted, adding that the four meetings the Syrian Kurdish parties held between 2012 and 2015 in the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to agree on principles, an agenda and a joint political program to manage the Kurdish region in Syria, were all pointless.

Mansour told Al-Monitor, “The most important agreements for rapprochement between the parties of the Kurdish movement in Syria was when the Kurdish leaders, headed by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, came together face-to-face in Erbil and Dahuk and signed the Erbil and Dahuk agreements [in 2012 and 2014, respectively] but it was not implemented by the autonomous administration.”

According to Mansour, “Players in the international arena ought to exert pressure on Kurdish leaders to form a new administration with a new law and an interim constitution that contributes to resuming negotiation with the government of Damascus and taking back Kurdish national rights. We realize that we are part of the international community and our future is linked to the future of international relations and understandings throughout the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, most Kurdish political parties seem to uninterested by the initiatives to bridge the Kurdish-Kurdish gap, refusing to budge on their priorities.

Independent Kurdish politician Akram Hussein, told Al-Monitor, “The international community is working to stabilize security in the east of the Euphrates and not between the Kurdish parties. It is thus trying to involve all parties in the administration, including the KNC, which disagrees with the administration and does not recognize its legitimacy. The French and US attempts aim to bridge this gap and initiate compromise that could lead to an end to the Turkish threats to invade the east of the Euphrates.”

While France and the United Kingdom could easily pressure the Kurdish parties to reconcile, they are doing so very softly, raising questions among the Kurds.

Khalid Ali, a member of the advisory body of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, told Al-Monitor over the phone from Hewler, “I think the international community is not interested in this issue and if there is a future interest, the international community can simply force the Kurdish parties [into agreement]. But it apparently does not show a desire to find solutions to problems.”

The source pointed out that within the series of international visits and meetings to the east of the Euphrates, it is possible for the KNC to meet with the Russians at the Hmeimim Air Base next. Russia, which plays a major role in the Syrian file, has repeatedly expressed readiness to mediate between Kurds and the Syrian regime.

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