Syria blasts US 'military pressure' on peace talks
DAMASCUS - Damascus on Tuesday blasted US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis for saying a US-led coalition would continue fighting in Syria until talks to end the conflict there make progress.
Mattis told reporters on Monday that the US-led coalition's goal was to battle the Islamic State group while finding a diplomatic solution to Syria's six-year war.
But Syria's foreign ministry shot back on Tuesday, saying it "categorically rejected" US efforts to link peace talks to military action.
"Linking the US's presence in Syria to a settlement process is just a pretext and an attempt to justify this presence," said a source at the foreign ministry, quoted by state news agency SANA.
"The United States and others will not be able to impose any solution with military pressure -- on the contrary, this presence will only prolong and complicate the crisis," said the statement.
It demanded the "immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US forces" from Syrian territory.
The US and Russia issued a joint presidential statement on Saturday saying there was "no military solution" to Syria's grinding conflict.
On Monday, Mattis said the coalition would keep fighting to "set the conditions for a diplomatic solution".
"We're not just going to walk away right now until the Geneva process has traction," he told reporters.
A new round of negotiations is scheduled to take place from November 28, a process headed by the UN special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
Seven previous sessions between the Syrian regime and the opposition failed to overcome the main obstacle -- the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.