Lavrov warns U.S. against 'playing with fire' in Syria

By Ed Adamczyk  |  Feb. 19, 2018 at 8:47 AM
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Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Russia's foreign minister on Monday warned the United States against "playing with fire" in Syria.

Sergey Lavrov cautioned U.S. officials to reduce provocations in the civil war-torn nation, saying the United States' actions there have fractured the country.

Addressing a conference of the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow policy advisory group, Lavrov said Syria's sovereignty and territorial rights are under attack by U.S. troops and funds that arm opposition groups.

"It seems that our American counterparts' pledges that their sole goal in Syria is the war on [the Islamic State] and preserving the territorial integrity need to be confirmed with specific actions," Lavrov said. "I once again call on our American colleagues not to play with fire and measure their steps proceeding not from immediate needs of today's political environment, but rather from long-term interests of the Syrian people."

Lavrov accused the United States of using the Kurdish Democratic Union political party to divide Syria -- particularly in Afrin, a Syrian zone of U.S. influence in which Turkish troops are fighting. The Syrian Arab News Agency, said Monday that opposition forces will soon arrive in the area to combat a month-long Turkish offensive in the area.

"[The United States] involved the units of the Kurdish Democratic Union party in their position to undermine Syria's territorial integrity, in fact, which led to an escalation of tensions with Turkey," Lavrov said, adding that the United States should stop "playing very dangerous games, which will lead to the disintegration of the Syrian state."

The Russian warning came as Turkey is receiving criticism for classifying Kurdish fighters as terrorists.

"We are not against Kurds in Turkey, we are not against Kurds in Iran, in Iraq and Syria.," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu said at a security conference in Germany. "We are against ... all the terrorist organizations."

While the Kurdish ethnic population can be found in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the Turkish government regards Kurdish fighters as militants. U.S. support for the fighters has strained relations between Ankara and Washington, to the point that both countries agreed last week to concentrate on efforts on restoring a normalization of ties.

After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ankara last week, Cavusoglu announced that the two countries "reached an understanding" to normalize diplomatic efforts.

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