Damascus ready to discuss autonomy for Syria Kurds: minister

Syrian Kurds take part in a rally in the northeastern city of Qamishli on September 15, 2017, in support of an independence referendum in neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan

The Syrian government is ready to discuss autonomy for the country's Kurds, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has said, the first time Damascus has openly accepted such a possibility. Muallem renewed his opposition however to an independence referendum held by Kurds in neighbouring Iraq on Monday. State news agency SANA quoted Muallem telling Russia Today on Monday night that Syria's Kurds "want a form of autonomy within the framework of the borders of the state." "This is negotiable and can be the subject of dialogue," he said. "As soon as we have defeated Daesh, we can sit down with our Syrian brothers and agree on a formula for the future," he added, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. Syria's Kurds are a leading force against IS, and are supported in their campaign by the US-led coalition fighting the jihadists. The Syrian government is fighting its own separate Russian-backed campaign against IS. Muallem repeated his opposition to an independence vote held by Iraq's Kurds on Monday, calling it a "separatist referendum" and "totally unacceptable in our eyes." "We support the unity of Iraq," he said. Muallem had already criticised the vote. Syria's Kurds, who made up 15 percent of the country's pre-war population, largely stayed out of the uprising that started the conflict in March 2011. Instead they focused on building local government and security forces in Kurdish-majority areas in the north and northeast. On Friday, they held the first of a series of local elections they plan to hold in areas under their control. The election was dismissed by Syria's deputy foreign minister as a "joke."