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Photo: AFP
Syria's foreign minister Wallid Al-Moallem
Photo: AFP
Syria 'OK' with US airstrikes
Syrian Foreign Minister Al-Moallem tells AP fight against ISIS has aligned Syrian regime with Western and Arab opponents in fight against common enemy.
Syria's foreign minister said Monday that his government is satisfied with the US-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State group, adding that the airstrikes should be expanded to include all other militant groups in Syria.

 

 

Wallid Al-Moallem said the US does not inform Syria of every strike before it happens, "but it's OK," and noted that the fight against terrorism has aligned the Syrian regime with its Western and Arab opponents in a fight against a common enemy.

 

Syria's foreign minister Wallid Al-Moallem (Photo: AFP)
Syria's foreign minister Wallid Al-Moallem (Photo: AFP)

 

"They have the same ideology. They have the same extremist ideology," the Syrian regime's foreign minister told The Associated Press.

 

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Speaking earlier at the UN General Assembly, Al-Moallem denounced what he called the United States' "dual policy" of striking at some militants in Syria while providing money, weapons and training to others, calling it a recipe for more violence and terrorism.

 

Such behavior creates a "fertile ground" for the continued growth of extremism in countries including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, al-Moallem told world leaders.

 

Washington and Arab allies opened their air assault against the extremist group last week in Syria, going after the group's military facilities, training camps, heavy weapons and oil installations. The campaign expands upon the airstrikes the United States has been conducting against the militants in Iraq since early August.

 

Some of the initial strikes in Syria targeted the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, hitting several of its facilities and killing dozens of its fighters. Washington said it was trying to take out an al-Qaeda cell known as the Khorasan Group that the US says was actively plotting attacks against Americans and Western interests.

 

On Monday, al-Moallem said the Islamic State group, the Nusra Front and all Islamic groups fighting the Assad regime were on the same side and all should be hit.

 

Asked whether the strikes should include the loose umbrella rebel group known as the Free Syrian Army, which is backed by the US and its allies, he said that group "does not exist anymore."

 

In the interview, al-Moallem tried to position his country as being on the same side as the US-led coalition. Asked whether Syria considered itself now aligned with the West because both were fighting the same enemy, al-Moallem replied: "This is the fact."

 

"We are fighting ISIS, they are fighting ISIS," he said, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its acronyms.

 

In an interview aired Sunday, President Barack Obama acknowledged that the bombing campaign could ultimately help Assad stay in power.

 

While the White House continues to call for Assad's departure and has consistently condemned his actions in a three-year civil war, diplomatic negotiations to oust him have largely stalled and Obama has shown no appetite for using military power to force him out.

 

Given that the Islamic State group is one of the Syrian government's strongest opponents, the strikes have created an unexpected alignment between the US and Assad that the Syrian president is seeking to exploit in order to gain legitimacy.

 

Last month, al-Moallem warned at a news conference in Damascus that any strike that was not coordinated with the Assad government would be considered as aggression.

 

But on Monday he denied saying that coordination was necessary, adding that Damascus was satisfied with simply being informed of any US-led action, which he said the Obama administration did before the start last week of the aerial campaign in Syria.

 

He said the US government sent three separate messages to Syria 24 hours before it launched its first airstrike on Sept. 23. The messages were identical, he said: "We (the US) are not after the Syrian army or the Syrian government."

 

He said there have been no further messages as the US-led coalition has ramped up its bombing campaign, "but it's OK."

 

"Until today, we are satisfied. As long as they are aiming at ISIS locations in Syria and in Iraq, we are satisfied," he said.

 

Asked about Syria's position on the five Arab countries that have joined the bombing campaign in Syria, al-Moallem said: "We were not asked about them, it's up to them."

 

"As long as they are hitting ISIS" Syria would not criticize their participation, he said.

 

However, in his UN speech, al-Moallem denounced members of the US-led coalition as key supporters of "armed terrorist groups." He did not name them, but Syria regularly accuses Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting the opposition fighting to topple Assad.

 

The US-led coalition also includes Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

 

Al-Moallem said the Syrian military is fighting to regain territory captured by the Islamic State group, but a political solution without any influence from outsiders is the only way out of the civil war that has killed more than 190,000 people and driven a third of Syria's population - some 9 million people - from their homes.

 

"The political solution has to be based on what the Syrian people agree between themselves," he said.

 

Al-Moallem said the "good offices" of the new UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, are needed, but this doesn't mean that he has to interfere" in talks which must take place in Syria.

 

He said participants must be people who are nationalists, believe in combating terrorism, and in building a future for Syria that respects the "the will of the Syrian people" who re-elected Assad in March.

 

As for the communiqué agreed on by major powers at a Geneva conference in June 2012 calling for the establishment of a transitional governing body for Syria - which has served as a basis for negotiations - al Moallem said it will be up to the Syrian people to decide whether it's still valid.

 

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