The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are holding talks with the government in Damascus for the first time on the future of huge swathes of northern Syria under their control.
The Kurdish-majority SDF, founded with the help of the US to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in northeastern Syria, now controls almost a third of the country and is looking to negotiate a political deal to preserve its autonomy.
“We are working towards a settlement for northern Syria,” said Riad Darar, the Arab co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the SDF’s political wing.
“We hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive,” Mr Darar said, adding that they were being held “without preconditions”.
The SDF now controls 27 per cent of the country, accord to the UK-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, having seized Raqqa and much of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor from Isil militants with the help of US airpower
The Kurds have used the cover of the Syrian war to carve out a semi-autonomous enclave in the northeast of the country, which it calls “Rojava”.
Before the conflict, Kurds faced state persecution for years, banned from speaking their own language in schools and mosques.
The regime has largely left the Kurds alone while focusing their attention on rebel-held areas.
And while the Kurds say they are seeking a political deal that will safeguard their autonomy, not full independence, Damascus views Kurdish aspirations with suspicion.
Earlier this President Bashar al-Assad threatened to resort to force if necessary to prevent SDF-held areas breaking away.
He has repeatedly said that he intends to reclaim “every inch” of Syria.
The Syrian Kurds have grown wary of the US, which has sent mixed messages of its intended future support.
President Donald Trump has said he wants to bring home the troops the US has in Syria supporting the SDF once the fight against Isil is wrapped up. Washington also opposed an independence bid by Kurds in neighbouring Iraq.
Any deal agreed between the Kurds and the regime will raise fresh questions for US policy in Syria.