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West opens security contacts with Syria-deputy minister

Source: Reuters - Wed, 15 Jan 2014 11:21 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds comment from Kerry)

DUBAI, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The intelligence services of some Western countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have visited Damascus to discuss security cooperation with his government, Syria's deputy foreign minister said in remarks broadcast on Wednesday.

"I will not specify (which countries) but many of them have visited Damascus, yes," the deputy minister, Faisal Mekdad, said in an interview with the BBC.

Asked about the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated he was not aware of such contacts.

"I don't know anything about that. Certainly not under my auspices" has there been any contact of that kind, he told reporters in Kuwait, where he is on a visit.

Mekdad said that the contacts appeared to show a rift between the political and security authorities in some countries opposed to Assad.

Western powers have supported the opposition with rhetoric but have backed away from material aid as al Qaeda-linked groups take advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held regions.

Western countries are worried about the presence in rebel ranks of foreign Islamist militants who have travelled to Syria to join a near three-year-old struggle to topple Assad.

"Frankly speaking the spirit has changed," Mekdad added.

"When these countries ask us for security cooperation, then it seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leaderships."

Asked if he was confirming that British intelligence had been in contact with Syria, he declined a direct reply.

"I am saying that many of these countries have contacted us to coordinate security measures," he added.

An uprising against four decades of Assad family rule erupted in Syria in March 2011. It descended into an armed insurgency after the army cracked down on protests. (Reporting by William Maclean and Rania El Gamal, and by Warren Strobel in Kuwait, Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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