Washington and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—US officials denied holding any talks with the embattled Syrian government on Wednesday, following claims by a Syrian minister that Bashar Al-Assad’s government had held talks with Western intelligence agencies on the threat of Islamic extremists fighting in the conflict.
A spokeswoman from the US State Department, Dina Badawy, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The United States does not discuss anti-terrorism with the Syrian regime and based on Assad’s record, past and present, it is absurd to look at him as a potential partner in the fight against extremism.”
“During the most difficult days in Iraq, Bashar Al-Assad helped the influx of hundreds of foreign fighters into Iraq, where they carried out operations against American and Western interests there, and the current active cooperation between Assad, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards contradict the interests of the United States and encourages sectarian violence,” she added.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Miqdad, told the BBC on Wednesday that foreign intelligence agencies from European countries opposed to Assad had visited Damascus to discuss security cooperation. He said the visits showed there were disagreements between the political authorities and the security officials in those countries.
“Many governments have finally grasped the fact that there is no alternative to the leadership of President Bashar Al-Assad,” he said. “When those countries request security cooperation with Syria, it is a sign that the political and security leaders are at odds.”
In the US, the Wall Street Journal published a report on Wednesday which said secret meetings had taken place between European intelligence agencies and Syrian government officials to exchange information on some 1,200 European jihadists, who officials said had joined armed groups in Syria and would pose a threat on their return to Europe.
The report said sources confirmed that British, German, French and Spanish intelligence officers had visited Damascus to discuss the militants, but that this did not represent “a broader diplomatic opening.” Syrian rebels have expressed concern that this signals a shift in perceptions in European capitals that Assad will eventually triumph on the battlefield.
US Secretary of State John Kerry denied any knowledge of communications between European and American security officials and Syrian government officials. At a news conference on the fringes of the Syrian donors’ summit in Kuwait, Kerry told reporters: “I don’t know anything about that. Certainly not under my auspices has there been any outreach or contact [with the Syrian government].”
Khattar Abou Diab, a political science lecturer at the Université Paris-Sud, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the information revealed by Miqdad “was not new, because we heard rumors recently about a visit to Damascus by the head of intelligence in Germany.”
He said that “according to leaks, this rumored visit aimed at coordinating the chemical weapons deal, because it is known that Germany is playing a mediator’s role in international deals.”
Abou Diab dismissed the possibility that “the Syrian regime, due to these visits, could consider itself a partner in the fight against terrorism,” adding that “the fierce campaign which is launched by the armed Syrian opposition against the fundamentalist groups in northern and eastern Syria has refuted this possibility.”