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US-Turkey talks on Syria safe zone end without agreement

July 25, 2019 at 2:50 pm

US-backed coalition forces driving in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on 3 April 2018 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]

Talks between the United States (US) and Turkey on the proposed new safe zone in north-eastern Syria have ended with no agreement decided upon by both sides yesterday, stoking concerns of a resort to a military solution.

Following the conclusion of the talks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed his deep disappointment at the US in the negotiations, saying that “new US proposals on a Syria safe zone are not at all satisfactory.”

The three-day talks, held between Cavusoglu and the US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey, were meant to result in the establishment of a new de-escalation zone in the war-torn country, specifically east of the Euphrates River. To come to an agreement, however, there were certain conditions put forward by Turkey such as its demand for the zone to exclude the Kurdish militias like the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).

On Tuesday, Turkey warned that if the safe zone is not agreed upon, then it will proceed to conduct a military operation into the areas east of the Euphrates, in order to clear its border of the Kurdish militias and push them further eastwards.

READ: Nightmare in Idlib getting worse

Turkey has previously conducted two major military interventions into northern Syria – the first being “Operation Euphrates Shield” in 2017 and the second being “Operation Olive Branch” in 2018 – with the aim of both of them being to ensure the prevention of the YPG, and the Syrian conflict in general, from spilling over into the country.

With the talks having ended with no conclusive agreement, the primary concern amongst US policymakers and the Kurdish groups in Syria is that Turkey will go ahead with its planned military operation. According to a report released by the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) yesterday, Turkey has already mobilised a “large number of troops and armoured vehicles” at three points along its border with Syria to the east, where the YPG currently control large areas of territory.

Throughout the eight-year conflict in Syria, there have been numerous agreements to set up safe zones around the country, in which civilians and displaced Syrians can find safety and cover from the civil war. The zones, which were agreed upon primarily by Turkey, Russia, Iran and the US, previously numbered six in different Syrian provinces, but successive territorial conflicts between the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and the opposition groups prevented some from materialising while others were trampled upon by the regime and Russia’s air strikes and military operations.

The latest of such violations of the agreed safe zones is that of the province of Idlib, where the regime and Russia have been conducting an ongoing air and ground assault since May in order to recapture the province from opposition groups.

READ: Air strikes kill 18 in Syria’s Idlib