Turkey, US need a success story in Syria

Turkey, US need a success story in Syria

It was Jan 14 when United States President Donald Trump tweeted his suggestion to set up a 20-mile (32-kilometer) safe zone in northeastern Syria in order to address Turkey’s security concerns stemming from the presence of the PYD/YPG along the Turkish-Syrian border.

A task force composed by military and civilian officials from Turkey and the U.S. to discuss the modalities of the proposed safe zone has held three meetings until now. Roughly speaking, there are three parameters that need to be clarified.

The depth of the safe zone requires a detailed study on the map by showing the utmost importance to the demographic realities and the strategic positions. Turkey has made clear that this should be no less than 30 kilometers in order to save the Turkish border from the range of the YPG’s potential attacks. It also recalls Trump’s tweet that registers 20 miles as the depth of the zone. The U.S., however, wants a narrower strip of land.

A second condition raised by Turkey stipulates the withdrawal of all the PYD/YPG terrorists from the safe zone. Recent statements by James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for Syria, reveal this is agreed.

The third point is on who would control this safe zone. From the very outset, Turkey insists that its control must be provided by the Turkish troops. The U.S., however, was hesitant in having the Turkish military cross into northeastern Syria. The U.S. media has recently reported that many European nations have rejected Washington’s call for the deployment of troops in the safe zone. Those nations include Britain and France.

A story by the Washington Post on April 26 introduces a new aspect to the negotiations. It reported that the two sides “are negotiating a plan for their troops to jointly patrol a safe zone about 20 miles wide.”

It’s understood that the details of this plan are still to be crafted. Of course, Turkish patrolling within the safe zone with the U.S. troops doesn’t necessarily mean a permanent deployment of the Turkish military. It seems that the American plan suggests temporary Turkish involvement, but the safe zone will still be under the control of the U.S. troops. It’s hard to envisage how efficient this plan will be given the reduced number of American troops in the entire Syrian theater.

In addition to negotiations for the safe zone, the Turkish side reiterates its expectation from the U.S. to deliver the Manbij deal and to let the YPG withdraw from the Arab city.

The U.S. decision to engage with Turkey in controlling the safe zone seems to be a positive step. An agreement between the two allies on this matter would constitute a very good message for the future of bilateral relationships which are suffering from a number of serious disagreements over the S-400s, Iranian sanctions and other issues.

A success story in Syria would open a window of opportunity on both sides to overcome differences in other fields of the troubled partnership. The ball is overwhelmingly in the U.S.’s court for the realization of the safe zone that would serve the interest of both sides, as suggested by Trump early this year.

Serkan Demirtaş,