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US, Turkey agree on establishment of Syria safe zone

US President Donald Trump (R) and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) in Washington, US on 16 May 2017 [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]
US President Donald Trump (R) and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) in Washington, US on 16 May 2017 [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey and the United States (US) have agreed to jointly establish a safe zone in north-eastern Syria, according to a joint statement by the Turkish Defence Ministry and a US delegation yesterday.

“Talks between Turkish and the US military delegations regarding establishment of a safe zone in the north of Syria were concluded,” the press release said.

The statement outlined that Turkey and the US agreed to establish a joint operations centre within Turkey “to coordinate and manage the establishment of the safe zone together and that the safe zone shall become a peace corridor, and that any additional measures shall be taken for our displaced Syrian brothers to return to their country.”

The move comes after weeks of talks between US and Turkish military officials, most notably US Envoy to Syria James Jeffreys and Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, which were repeatedly stalled due to disagreements on both sides. During the talks, Turkey demanded certain conditions including that the zone be free of militants belonging to the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and all other Kurdish groups, and that it cover 30 kilometres along the Turkish-Syrian border and be controlled primarily by Turkey. These conditions clashed with those of the US, however, which support the YPG, wants the depth of the safe zone to be between five and 15 kilomtres, and wants to have full control of the zone itself with the exception of joint US-Turkish patrol missions.

READ: Syrian Kurdish official warns of ‘big war’ if US-Turkish talks fail

The talks were restarted on Monday in an effort by the US to discourage Turkey from launching a military operation it had said it would conduct in northern Syria if a safe zone is not agreed.

This operation, if conducted, would have been the third major intervention that Turkey has conducted in Syria, with “Operation Euphrates Shield” in 2016 and “Operation Olive Branch” in 2018. Its primary goal would have been to clear the border area of the Kurdish militias which Turkey considers a national security threat, particularly that of the YPG which is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group operating within Turkey.

After the talks, Akar was reported as saying that “We gladly observed that our interlocutors approached our views on the Syria safe zone…Our plans on the Syria safe zone and the deployment of our troops in the field have been completed.” The main aim, he said, was to find common ground between his country and the US delegation in order to cooperate. “We would prefer to act together with our American ally. If that isn’t possible, we have said multiple times that we will do what is necessary,” Akar said.

Despite the deal being welcomed by many and the military operation having been averted for now, some have expressed anger at the agreement, in particular the Syrian regime which has called it a “blatant attack” on the country’s sovereignty and territorial unity.

The “American-Turkish partnership in the aggression against Syria,” it stated today, is “a dangerous escalation and a threat to peace and stability in the area.”

READ: How could Turkey respond if US imposed sanctions over Russia’s S-400 delivery?

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