Turkey cool on US offer of ‘safe zones’ in Syria
Hande Fırat – ANKARA
Washington’s proposal for the creation of a “security zone” along Turkey’s 911-kilometer border with Syria has received a cool reply from Ankara, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu urging the U.S. to first take steps to “re-build trust” between the two allies before discussing such military matters.
“Until trust between the two countries has been re-established it would not be appropriate to discuss such issues,” Çavuşoğlu told Hürriyet on Jan. 25.
“Our trust with the U.S. has been damaged. It’s not like we can say ‘a proposal has been made so we will accept it.’ These are serious issues. Trust should be re-built before we can talk about these details,” he said.
Çavuşoğlu’s remarks came two days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested building a 30-kilometer deep “security zone” along the Syrian border with Turkey at a meeting with Çavuşoğlu in Paris.
The proposal followed the Turkish Armed Forces’ launching of “Operation Olive Branch” on Jan. 20 in a bid to clear Syria’s Afrin province of militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the U.S. has partnered with in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group directly linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We are not certain what exactly the [U.S.] objective is. First of all we need to fix this skeptical environment,” Çavuşoğlu added.
During Paris meeting, Tillerson admitted that Washington recognizes Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns,” while urging the Turkish government to keep the Afrin operation “limited in scope and in time.” Both Çavuşoğlu and Tillerson underlined that they do not want to see Turkish and American forces pitted against each other, particularly in Manbij region of Syria, where a number of U.S. troops are deployed along with YPG elements.
At a press conference in Istanbul, Çavuşoğlu touched on Turkey’s expectations from the U.S. over its ties with the YPG. “[Tillerson] told me that they were considering establishing a 10 km-deep security zone along the 911-kilometer Turkey-Syria border but they later decided to expand it to 30 km-deep because rockets were fired from Syria within that range,” he said.
Turkey had suggested building a “security zone” inside Syria years ago, the foreign minister said, adding that the proposals of the two countries may not necessarily mean the same thing.
“The U.S. needs to stop delivering weapons to the YPG. It needs to push the YPG to withdrawing from Manbij if it wants to re-build confidence with Turkey … We have to see all these commitments fulfilled,” Çavuşoğlu said.
‘US should stop supporting terrorists’
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ called on the U.S. to “stop supporting terrorists” if it wants to avoid a possible “confrontation with Turkey.”
“Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in such a battle,” Bozdağ told private broadcaster A Haber on Jan. 25. “The U.S. needs to review its solders and elements that support terrorists on the ground in a way to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.”
Senior Turkish officials have vowed that Turkey’s anti-terror campaign will continue “until all of its borders are cleared of terrorists,” including east of the Euphrates, where the U.S. and the YPG are in close cooperation against ISIL. The YPG currently controls around 25 percent of Syrian territory and Ankara is concerned that it is seeking to establish autonomous rule in the north and east of the country.