Syria’s top diplomat on Saturday demanded the immediate withdrawal of American and Turkish forces from the country and said his government reserves the right to defend its territory in any way necessary if they remain.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly were made as Turkey and the United States press ahead with a deal to create a safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey.
On the political front, he reaffirmed the government’s support for the recently agreed committee to draft a new constitution for the country. As has been the government’s tone since the start of the 2011 uprising in Syria, the foreign minister took a hard line, stressing there must be no interference from any country or timeline imposed on the process.
Al-Moallem’s speech highlighted the enormous challenges to achieve reconciliation in Syria, where more than 400,000 people have been killed during the conflict and millions more have fled.
The more than eight-year conflict has also drawn numerous foreign militaries and thousands of foreign fighters to Syria, many to support the now-defeated Islamic State extremist group and others still there backing the opposition and battling government forces.
“The United States and Turkey maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria,” al-Moallem said. “Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and should withdraw immediately.”
If they refuse, he said, “we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law.”
There are around 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria on a mission to combat Islamic State militants. The United States also backs and supports Kurdish groups in the northeast that are opposed to the Syrian government and have fought against Sunni extremist groups.
President Trump had said he wants to bring the troops home, but military officials have advocated a phased approach.
Al-Moallem described Turkey and the United States as “arrogant to the point of holding discussions and reaching agreements on the creation of a so-called ‘safe zone’ inside Syria” as if it was on their own soil. He said any agreement without the consent of the Syrian government is rejected.