In policy shift, U.S. opens direct talks with Syrian Kurds linked to the PKK

McClatchy reports: The Obama administration acknowledged Thursday that a U.S. official for the first time met with a representative of a Syrian Kurdish political party that’s closely linked to a group on the U.S. terrorist list.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said a U.S. diplomat met with a counterpart from the main Kurdish political party in Syria – the Democratic Union Party, better known by its Kurdish acronym as the PYD – to discuss the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State. The PYD’s militia is engaged in fierce battles with the Islamist extremists, especially near the town of Kobani along the border with Turkey.

The direct talks are a sign of the shifting alliances created by the rise of the Islamic State. In Iraq, for example, the U.S. is providing air cover for Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militias that once targeted American forces. And now in Syria, it appears the United States is willing to work with a group that’s tied to the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged a guerrilla war for Kurdish rights in Turkey for 30 years and which has been on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations for nearly two decades. Turkey and the European Union also have blacklisted the PKK.

Psaki provided no details of the meeting beyond saying that it took place over the past weekend and outside of the Middle East. Kurdish and other media reports say Charles Rivkin, the undersecretary of state for economic affairs, and PYD leader Salih Muslim met in Paris.

The new face-to-face U.S. channel to the PYD is likely to rankle Turkey, which on Monday bombed PKK locations in Turkey and has battled Kurdish civilians near Kobani protesting the international response to the Islamic State assault on the town. [Continue reading…]

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