By Tom Perry and Rodi Said
BEIRUT/QAMISHLI, Syria, (Reuters) – The Syrian government and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been holding negotiations at a Russian airbase in Syria, a Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters on Sunday, expressing hope for a deal that would halt a Turkish attack.
Ahmed Suleiman, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria, said the talks were being held at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Latakia.
He did not say if he or his party – which is independent from the SDF – had a role in the negotiations.
Asked about Suleiman’s comments, the head of the SDF media office Mustafa Bali said “no comment”. “We have confirmed from the start of the (Turkish) invasion that we will study all options that could spare our people ethnic cleansing,” he said.
Syrian government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Suleiman said he hoped for an agreement between the sides that would “halt the ongoing war and especially its catastrophic and dangerous consequences”.
He said the talks could be moved to Damascus, from where he was speaking to Reuters via WhatsApp messenger.
“We are now in Damascus, this is what I can say at present. We hope an agreement is reached that halts the war and its dangerous and catastrophic consequences on the citizens east of the Euphrates”.
His party, one of Syria’s oldest Kurdish groups, is not involved in the autonomous administration set up by the SDF and other Kurdish groups such as the PYD party in northern Syria.
Russia is President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally.
Turkish forces backed by Syrian rebel groups launched an offensive on Wednesday into areas of northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Ankara says it is targeting Kurdish forces linked to an insurgency at home.
The Turkish attack began after U.S. forces that have backed the SDF withdrew from part of the Syrian-Turkish border. The SDF, a major ally of the United States against Islamic State, called it a stab in the back.
Earlier on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States was poised to evacuate about 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria after learning that Turkey planned to extend its incursion further south and west than originally planned.
Another consideration in the decision, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated, was that Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were looking to make a deal with Russia to counter the Turkish offensive.
(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)