Western spies contact Damascus to discuss security, Syria says

Western countries are worried about the presence of foreign Islamist militants in Syria

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Western intelligence services opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have visited Damascus in an effort to discuss security cooperation with his government, the Syrian deputy foreign minister told the BBC.

“I will not specify [which countries attended] but many of them have visited Damascus, yes,” Faisal Mekdad said on Wednesday.

Mekdad, who refused to clarify whether British intelligence had been in contact with Syria or not said that many Western countries have contacted Syria to discuss its battle against radical Islamist groups.

A gap between Western security officials and politicians who are pressing President Bashar al-Assad to step down was noticed, Mekdad said.

But many Western governments had finally understood that there was no alternative to the leadership of Assad, he added.

Recently, Western powers have backed away from material aid to Assad’s opposition – despite the West's support to the rebels - as al-Qaeda-linked groups have continued to take over more territory, especially in the northeastern province of Raqqa.

Western countries are worried about the presence of foreign Islamist militants who have travelled to Syria to join the nearly three-year-old fight aiming at ousting Assad.

“Frankly speaking, the spirit has changed,” Mekdad added.

“When these countries ask us [Syria] for security cooperation, the nit seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leaderships,” he added.

Syrian government officials are due to attend peace talks in Geneva next week.

However, the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, has still not decided whether or not to take part.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 100,000 people and forced some 2 million to flee abroad, according to the United Nations. Another 4 million have been displaced inside the country.

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