Turkish, American top diplomats to meet to finalize Syria plan
Two top diplomats from Turkey and the United States will come together in Washington D.C. on June 3 to finalize a months-long debated road map for a bilateral move in the Manbij province of Syria that will push the withdrawal of Syrian Kurdish fighters from the city and help the two NATO allies relatively mend their troubled ties.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will be hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 4 in their first in-person meeting in the U.S. capital since the latter has been appointed as American diplomat.
The core of the talks will be focused on what the two parties call “the Manbij plan” that would stipulate the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group Ankara recognizes as a terrorist organization because of its links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), from this strategic province in northwestern Syria.
Turkey has long demanded the YPG’s removal from Manbij, where a sizeable U.S. force has also been deployed since early 2016. The former U.S. administration had promised this but it has never been fulfilled by the past and current U.S. governments.
Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo are expected to reveal a plan for the joint control and protection of Manbij after the withdrawal of the YPG troops from the region within a certain timeline. According to a report by the state-run Anadolu Agency, the YPG will leave the city in 30 days after the agreement between Turkey and the U.S. will be announced on June 4. The Turkish military will monitor the withdrawal of the YPG in order not to create a security vacuum to be filled by other terrorist organizations in the region.
The military council responsible for security and the local council responsible for municipal services will be formed by taking the ethnic distribution of the population into consideration. The same report suggests that the new governing body of Manbij will be established within the first 60 days after June 4. In between, the Turkish and American troops and intelligence will undertake joint measures for the security of the city.
The U.S.’ continued partnership with the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has long received harsh reactions from Turkey. It calls its NATO ally to cease this alliance with the YPG and stop pledging military and political support to the group. The U.S. however, does not hint that its cooperation with the YPG will soon end, as the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) suggests the anti-jihadist fight in eastern Syria needs to be fully won.
Manbij plan to be implemented in other YPG-held areas
In a statement on June 2, Çavuşoğlu told reporters the roadmap on Manbij would be announced following negotiations with his counterpart Pompeo on June 4.
“Who will govern here [Manbij] until a political solution is reached in the country? Who will be responsible for security? Joint action and a joint decision with the U.S. on these issues is the basic framework of the main roadmap,” he said.
He said if the Manbij plan is implemented successfully, other YPG-held Syrian towns would follow.
“We have to stabilize these places,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that there are hundreds of thousands of Kurds who had to flee persecution by the YPG.
All issues will be discussed
Although the primary reason why two ministers meet is ongoing turmoil in Syria, the conversation between Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo is believed to cover all aspects of bilateral relations. The ties between the two countries have long been suffering due to a score of unresolved bilateral matters.
Turkey’s demands for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, believed to be the mastermind of the July 2016 coup attempt, from the U.S. have not received a positive response. In return, the U.S. has pressed for the release of the American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in late 2016 over terror charges. The U.S. also wants the release of Metin Topuz, who was arrested over his alleged links with the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) in late 2017.
Another top issue is Turkey’s plans to purchase the $2.5 billion-worth Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems. The U.S. urges Turkey not to proceed further with this plan as it could impose sanctions upon a bill legislated earlier in the U.S. Congress.