WASHINGTON The United States said on Wednesday it opposed Syrian Kurds forming an autonomous region in northern Syria but could accept such an arrangement if the Syrians themselves ultimately agreed on it.
Syrian Kurds are considering combining three autonomous areas of northern Syria into a federal arrangement, a step that could pave the way to Syria's breakup. Such a move, potentially could alarm Turkey, which fears separatist sentiment in its own Kurdish population.
The United States has long taken the stance that it favours the unity and territorial integrity of Syria, which has been riven by a five-year civil war in which more than 250,000 people have died and millions have fled their homes.
"We won't recognise any kind of ... self-ruled, semi-autonomous zones in Syria," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at his daily briefing, referring to reports that the Syrian Kurds were considering a federal structure.
"We have been very clear about our belief in the territorial integrity and unity of Syria and we believe that the creation of these kinds of semi-autonomous zones now ... would frankly be a threat to that," he added.
Pressed on whether the United States could accept a federal structure for Syria if that were ultimately the choice of the Syrian people themselves, the spokesman replied: "Yes."
On-again, off-again U.N.-brokered peace talks on Syria resumed in Geneva this week.
Last week, diplomats said major powers close to the talks were discussing the possibility of a federal division of the war-torn country that would maintain its unity as a single state while granting broad autonomy to regional authorities.
Asked if the United States could accept an outcome where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remained in charge of a rump Syria, Toner replied: "Our position on Assad has not changed. We believe he should go."
But the spokesman noted the United States has been willing to engage in a diplomatic effort to resolve the war even while Assad's fate has not been decided.
"We don't believe that Assad can be part of any future for Syria," he said. "But ... we have not let that be a ... 20-foot brick wall that allows us to make no progress because there are others who believe differently. So ultimately, that's going to be a decision that we think will be resolved by the negotiating parties."
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Diane Craft)
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