Aug 09 2019

Turkey's demands come down to earth in Syria - The National Interest

After a months-long dispute over the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria, Turkey has seen that it has limited options that do not end in confrontation with the United States, U.S.-based international affairs magazine the National Interest said on Thursday.

Following a series of meetings with U.S. delegations led by the U.S. military and the U.S. Special Envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, Turkey’s Defence Ministry on Wednesday announced an agreement which promises to establish a joint operation centre in Turkey to manage long-standing plans to create a safe zone in northern Syria clear of Kurdish forces controlling the area.

Turkey has long sought to clear the area of the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG), which together with its affiliate the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) forms the backbone of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), by negotiating a peaceful transition, or by forcing the group out. 

Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group due to its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

Ankara proposed a 32-km (20-mile) deep safe zone stretching from the east bank of the River Euphrates to the Iraqi border. But the offers proposed by the United States have fallen far short of that extent.

During the U.S. delegation's meetings with Turkey, Washington emphasised that the SDF would control northeastern Syria, said Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security who has direct knowledge of the talks.

“Jim Jeffrey seems to have accepted that a limited safe zone would not derail U.S. efforts, the last-ditch efforts to defeat ISIS, but the only way we can really see this work is if the SDF and the YPG clearly agree to some sort of Turkish involvement here in the north,” The National Interest quoted Merve Tahiroğlu, an analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as saying.

A Turkish presence in a smaller safe zone alongside Kurdish forces would be "a significant step down" from Turkey's demands, The National Interest said.

Meanwhile, Loqman Ehme, a spokesperson for the SDF-aligned Autonomous Administration entailed any Turkish involvement in the safe zone to end of the occupation of Syria's northwestern city of Afrin, according to The National Interest.

Turkey took control of Kurdish-controlled Afrin with a military operation, codenamed "Operation Olive Branch", began on Jan. 20, 2018.