President Bashar Al Assad with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Damascus yesterday. Al Assad’s meeting with Zarif comes less than a week before the Geneva II peace conference. Image Credit: EPA

London: Western intelligence officials have visited Syria to discuss security cooperation with the regime, its deputy foreign minister told the BBC as the West worries about extremists among the Syrian opposition.

Faisal Miqdad told the BBC that the visits to Damascus pointed to a “schism” between what western politicians were saying about President Bashar Al Assad’s regime and what western security services were doing.

Western governments have backed the anti-Al Assad opposition but are increasingly concerned about the influence jihadist groups are wielding in the nearly three-year-old civil war.

Citing informed sources, the BBC said the US, British and German intelligence agencies were among those which had sent officials to Damascus to discuss not just foreign nationals detained in Syria but also broader security matters.

Miqdad said Western agencies were asking for security cooperation.

Asked about the report, US Secretary of State John Kerry indicated he was not aware of such contacts.

“I don’t know anything about that. Certainly not under my auspices” has there been any contact of that kind, he told reporters in Kuwait, where he is on a visit.

“I would not specify but many of them have visited Damascus, yes,” Miqdad said in a broadcast aired on Tuesday night.

“When these countries ask for security cooperation, then it seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leadership.

“Many of these countries have contacted us to coordinate security measures.”

His comments came a day after French President Francois Hollande said 700 people had left France to join the fighting in Syria.

Last month, the United States and Britain suspended their non-lethal aid to the opposition, fearing the growing influence of Islamists in the conflict.

Britain’s Foreign Office refused to comment on what Miqdad said.

“We do not comment on intelligence matters,” a spokeswoman said.