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US: ‘No role’ for European powers in new Syria safe zone

June 7, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Former US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey in Washington, US on 22 May 2019 [Yasin Öztürk/Anadolu Agency]

The United States’ envoy to Syria has announced that the country has a general plan to establish a proposed safe zone on the Turkish-Syrian border, but that European countries will not have a role to play in it.

Jim Jeffrey, who serves as both the presidential envoy to the anti-Daesh coalition and as the State Department Syria envoy, told US-based media outlet Al-Monitor that while Turkey and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have agreed to pull back Kurdish forces and to establish a safe zone in north-eastern Syria, “there’s no agreement, there’s no request, there’s no role for the Europeans in this space.” Jeffrey added that despite contrary reports being spread in December last year, “it’s not part of any deal. It hasn’t been discussed.”

The proposed safe zone is planned to be established on the Turkish-Syrian border, and will serve as a buffer between Turkey and its primary opponent in Syria: the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). There are still many points which are in the process of negotiations before the deal is concluded, however, including the amount of territory the YPG will be demanded to secede, the status of US weapons supplied to the group during the counter-Daesh campaign, and the arrangements for the governance of the safe zone.

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The statement by Jeffrey comes after months of the US attempting to push the United Kingdom and France to contribute forces to the proposed safe zone, particularly following President Donald Trump’s announcement in December of the withdrawal of the US military from Syria due to the alleged defeat of Daesh, which drew much criticism from the US’ European allies who taunted at the Munich Security Conference in February that “you’re leaving, we’re staying.”

After the announcement of the withdrawal, the US-backed YPG raised its concerns in February about its role in the region and the status of territory it had captured in Syria, prompting Syrian Kurds to call on European Union countries to aid them and support the safe zone in the face of US abandonment. Turkey, for its part, has stressed on its full control of the zone, with Defence Minister Hulusi Akar having insisted that the YPG remains at least 32 kilometres south of Turkey’s border and that the group returns heavy weapons supplied by the US.