- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2017

Russian negotiators are calling for “cultural autonomy” for ethnic Syrian Kurds in a draft version of a new constitution for the war-torn country unveiled Thursday.

The language could put Russia’s tenuous alliance with Turkey in Syria in danger, since Ankara continues to identify factions of Kurdish paramilitary forces in the country as terrorist groups.

The draft document, published by Russian state-run media outlet Ria Novosti, also strengthens and centralizes “united, inviolable and indivisible” control of the state under President Bashar Assad’s regime while outlawing “the organization of military or paramilitary activities outside of state authority.”

Russian diplomats, along with Turkish and Iranian representatives, unveiled the new draft constitution during the latest round of peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Russian, Iranian and Turkish diplomats have been working with representatives from the Assad regime and moderate rebel leaders to end the civil war which has ravaged Syria for the last six years.

Turkish lawmaker Ahmet Berat Conkar told Russian media outlet Sputnik News on Thursday that the draft constitution represented an important milestone in reaching a viable peace deal in Syria.

“We want the negotiating process in Astana to be fruitful. The proposed draft constitution can accelerate the peaceful process,” he said. But Mr. Conkar was adamant that a final draft of the constitution that involves the Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as the PKK, would be a deal breaker.

“We consider the PYD as a terrorist organization, so the approach to its possible involvement in the negotiations should be hardline,” he said, referring to the Kurdish Democratic Union party, or PYD, which is the armed faction of the PKK operating in Syria and Iraq.

“This is a very sensitive matter for Turkey. We believe that Russia understands the threat this organization poses to Turkey,” Mr. Conkar added.

Syrian peace talks have been underway since Moscow, Ankara and Tehran brokered a cease-fire deal in late December. The U.S., which has backed the rebel forces and demanded Mr. Assad step down, was not present for the key negotiations, which followed major battlefield advances by the regime’s forces backed by Russian airpower.

Those talks, along with Moscow’s unwavering support for the regime, will likely ensure Mr. Assad will remain in power in a postwar Syria — something former President Barack Obama’s White House has vehemently opposed.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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