By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Friday questioned the value of political negotiations and said air strikes against militants in his country are useless if they are not coordinated with his government.
"Terrorism cannot be fought only from the air, and all of the previous operations to combat it have only served its spread and outbreak," Moualem told the United Nations General Assembly.
Moualem was apparently referring to U.S.-led coalition air strikes on Islamic State fighters and the al Qaeda-linked Nursra Front in Syria and Iraq that began nearly a year go.
"Air strikes are useless unless they are conducted in cooperation with the Syrian army, the only force in Syria that is combating terrorism," he told the 193-nation assembly toward the end of the annual gathering of world leaders in New York.
Earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly to discuss Syria and Ukraine, two issues that divide the former Cold War rivals.
The Russians and Americans faced off repeatedly this week, with both sides claiming legitimacy for their actions in Syria but differing over the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a staunch Russian ally.
Moualem welcomed Russia's move this week to conduct air strikes in Syria at the request of the Damascus government in "support of the Syrian efforts in combating terrorism."
The Kremlin has said it was supporting the Syrian army at its weak points.
So far, U.N. efforts at mediating peace talks between the government and rebels striving to oust Assad have been unsuccessful. The 4-1/2-year civil war escalated with the start of Russia's bombing raids.
On Friday, Russia bombed Syria for the third day, mainly hitting areas held by rival insurgent groups rather than the Islamic State fighters it said it was targeting. The raids have drawn an increasingly angry response from the West.
Moualem suggested it would be impossible to end the crisis in his country solely through political negotiations.
"No one should think that, after all these sacrifices and steadfastness for more than four years, they could obtain through politics what they could not win in the field, or that they will achieve at the negotiating table what they failed to achieve on the ground," he said.
However, he announced that Assad's government was ready to participate in a series of working groups set up by U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura aimed at hammering out the framework of an agreement on a future political transition for Syria.
"Syria agrees to participate in the four brainstorming committees of experts proposed by the special envoy Staffan de Mistura," Moualem said, adding that the results of the working groups would be nonbinding.
So far, the idea of the working groups has failed to produce concrete results, and de Mistura - like predecessors Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi - has been unable to get the warring sides to halt their fighting.
A spokeswoman for de Mistura said on Friday that the United Nations has been forced to suspend planned humanitarian operations in Syria under a ceasefire agreement due to a surge of military activities.
Moualem said that reforms related to democratic elections and the country's constitution would have to wait while the government pursues its fight against what he characterized as terrorism.
"Syria cannot implement any democratic political measures related to elections, a constitution or the like, while terrorism is striking at home and threatens innocent civilians in the country," he said.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)