Turkey Says US Getting Closer to Its Views on North Syria Safe Zone
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the United States is shifting closer to Ankara’s views on a proposed safe zone in northeast Syria, and that its plans for a military deployment there are complete.
Turkey and the United States, allies in NATO, have been deadlocked for months over the scope and command of the zone, given the presence of Kurdish YPG militia that fought alongside US forces against Islamic State militants but which Ankara sees as terrorists who pose a grave security threat.
Ankara has accused Washington of stalling on setting up the safe zone spread over hundreds of kilometers along Syria’s northeastern border and has demanded that the United States sever its ties with the YPG.
On Wednesday, the third day of fresh Turkish-US talks on the safe zone, Akar described them as “positive and rather constructive,” and that he expected them to finish within hours.
“In the meeting, we were glad to see that our counterparts approached our viewpoint,” Akar said, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency.
Akar did not give details on that point. He added, “Our plans, preparations, the deployment of our units in the field are all complete. But we said we wanted to act together with our friend and ally, the United States.”
Washington has proposed a two-tiered safe zone, with a 5-kilometer (three-mile) demilitarized strip bolstered by an additional 9 kilometers cleared of heavy weapons — stretching in total less than half the distance into Syria that Turkey is seeking.
Turkey has also said it must have ultimate authority over the zone, another point of divergence with the United States.
Three Turkish officials who spoke to Reuters this week expressed impatience that the talks have yet to yield results, and warned that Ankara was ready to act on its own.
Turkey has twice sent forces into northern Syria in the last three years, citing security concerns caused by Syria’s eight-year-long civil war, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday a third incursion was imminent, targeting YPG-controlled territory east of the Euphrates River.
US President Donald Trump announced last year that US forces would leave Syria and began an initial withdrawal, a decision applauded by Ankara, and the two NATO allies agreed to create the safe zone.
On Tuesday, a US Defense Department report warned about a revival of Islamic State in Syria’s northeast, saying US-backed Kurdish groups were not equipped to handle the resurgent jihadist cells without US support.
“The partial (US) drawdown (has) occurred at a time when these fighters need additional training and equipping to build trust with local communities and to develop the human-based intelligence necessary to confront resurgent (Islamic State) cells and insurgent capabilities in Syria,” the report said.