Syrian Foreign Minister demanded on Saturday that US and Turkish forces evacuate the war-torn country immediately or face "any countermeasure authorized by international law."
Syrian authorities have made similar threats in the past to push unauthorized forces from the country, but have never taken serious steps to do so. Syrian troops, which have been crushed by years of war and desertion, are not in a position to fight the United States, and it appears the country has calculated that any attack on US forces would yield a formidable response.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said the United States and Turkey "maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria."
"Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization," he added, "are occupying forces and must withdraw immediately."
Al-Moallem's demand comes after the United States and Turkey reached an agreement in August to jointly patrol a strip of land in the northeast of the country bordering Turkey. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that he intends to use the "safe zone" strip to repatriate at least one million Syrian refugees.
Al-Moallem described Turkey and the United States as "arrogant" for holding discussions and reaching agreements in the safe zone without Syria's consent, and said the deal was void.
The eight-year civil war in Syria has subsided, with most of the country now under government control. But the US is supporting Kurdish groups, which, along with other rebels and extremists, still own parts of Syria.
[On an eight-day visit, New York Times journalists who had rare access to Syria found ruin, sadness, and generosity.]
The number of US troops in Syria has fallen since December 2,000 to about 1,000; they stay in the country primarily to help end pockets of Islamic State fighters, or ISIS.
President Trump announced in December that he wanted to immediately remove all US forces from Syria, stating that "we have won against ISIS."
But when US military officials and allies declined, he agreed to slow down. This month, the Pentagon announced it was preparing to send 150 more troops to Syria to patrol the safe zone.
A United Nations-affiliated committee plans to meet in Geneva on Oct. 30 to begin drafting a new Syrian constitution that could help warring parties reach a political settlement and end the war, the Associated Press reported. The Syria-led committee will include representation from government, opposition and civil society.