US Syria envoy in Ankara for safe zone talks as Turkey mulls op

US Syria envoy in Ankara for safe zone talks as Turkey mulls op

US Syria envoy in Ankara for safe zone talks as Turkey mulls op

Turkey would launch a new offensive into northern Syria if a so-called “safe zone” is not established and if threats against Turkey continue from the region, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on July 22. The minister said he hopes an agreement will be reached after talks with U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, who is visiting Turkey on the same day.

“If this threat persists and no solution is found, over the instruction of our president, our soldiers have already made preparations; we will take action. This is our national security issue,” he said, speaking at an interview with the TGRT broadcaster.

“The Americans sent Jeffrey and said there were new proposals in the talks that will start today. We hope an agreement can be reached on this. Concrete steps are needed on this now,” he said.

Turkey has been in talks with the United States over the establishment of a safe zone across its border in northeast Syria. Ankara wants the YPG group, which Ankara sees as the Syrian branch of the illegal PKK group, to withdraw from the border area, while Washington wants guarantees that Kurdish Syrians whom the United States allied with in the campaign to defeat ISIL in Syria will not be harmed.    

Çavuşoğlu said that talks with the United States on the safe zone have slowed recently, adding that Turkey had told Washington that it should not use the fighting in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province as a pretext for disregarding the proposed safe zone further east.

He repeated Turkey’s frustration that a deal with the United States for the withdrawal of YPG members from the town of Manbij had still not been implemented, more than a year after it was agreed, and warned that Turkey will act unilaterally if talks on the safe zone stall.

Jeffrey led the American delegation in talks with the Turkish team headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal on July 22 as part of the Syria working group, which was established in early 2018 and held several meetings to discuss Syria-related issues.

Priority was given to joint efforts to set up a safe zone in northeastern Syria to protect the Turkish borders from the YPG/PYD terror group. The idea is to create a terror-free zone along this safe zone to be monitored and patrolled by Turkish and American troops.

The two sides had traded their vision and proposals in regards to the safe zone in May. There are still differences in the main points about the safe zone, and Jeffrey’s talks will focus on narrowing the gaps between the proposals.

Turkey wants to have full control of the safe zone after all the YPG troops are withdrawn and all their facilities are destroyed. The depth of the safe zone should be around 30-40 kilometers so that no YPG troops can attack the Turkish border, Ankara says.

The United States, however, insists on an around 10 kilometer-deep safe zone with no permanent deployment of Turkish troops.