US shares Turkey’s concerns on PYD’s inclusion to Geneva talks

US shares Turkey’s concerns on PYD’s inclusion to Geneva talks

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
US shares Turkey’s concerns on PYD’s inclusion to Geneva talks

AP photo

The United States shares Turkey’s concerns that the formal participation of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the Geneva talks will give legitimacy to the group and the territories it controls in the northern Syria, although Washington differentiates the PYD from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) despite Ankara’s wishes. 

The PYD’s participation in the Geneva talks has been widely discussed between Turkish and American officials during Jan. 23 meetings of Vice President Joe Biden with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and later in phone conversations between the foreign ministers of the two sides. 

According to the diplomatic sources speaking to Hürriyet Daily News, Washington’s position vis-à-vis the PYD’s participation in U.N.-led talks to begin on Jan. 29 in Geneva shares similarities with the Turkish stance. 

“Washington is very mindful of Turkish sensitivities. Turkey is concerned that formal participation of the PYD in the Geneva talks will give the group on the long-term the legitimacy it has been seeking over the territories it controls. It’s a legitimate concern and Washington is sensitive to this, too,” was the main message delivered to Turkey by American officials during last week’s high-level conversations. 

How to stop PYD from ‘spoiling’ talks 

U.N. Special Envoy Stefan De Mistura issued invitation letters to Geneva participants late Jan. 26. PYD co-leader Saleeh Muslim told Reuters that he did not receive an invitation from the U.N. 

However, diplomatic sources noted that Stefan De Mistura would seek a formula to include the PYD in the talks after the commencement of the process Jan. 29. De Mistura is expected to consult with the PYD at an appropriate time so as not to exclude a group that represents a good portion of Kurds and that controls around 10 percent of Syria’s territories. It’s also believed such an inclusion of the PYD will prevent the group from spoiling upcoming negotiations between the opposition and the Assad regime. 

Ankara and Washington believe Russian pressure to include the PYD in the talks is another example of Moscow’s cynical tactics aiming at creating fractures within the Syrian opposition. 

US wants details from Turkey       

Despite the fact that Washington understands Turkey’s concerns about the PYD’s participation in the Geneva talks, the two allies still differ on how to categorize the PYD. Turkey designates the PYD as a terrorist organization because of its affiliation with the PKK, while the U.S. and other members of the anti-ISIL coalition regard the PYD as an important element of local forces in Syria fighting ISIL. 

Turkey strongly criticized the U.S. for supplying weapons and ammunitions to the PYD, as it claimed it has found this equipment later in the hands of the PKK. The vice president reiterated the U.S. position by saying that light ammunition had been only provided to Syrian Arab groups and not the PYD. 

In the face of claims that these ammunitions have been handed over to the PKK through tunnels from Syria to Turkey through Silopi and Nusaybin, U.S officials demanded detailed information about the ammunitions for verification, sources stressed. However, this detailed information has not yet been provided to Washington.

Turkey, US to move forward to close the border

Another important agreement between Turkish and American leaders is to continue work to seal the final 100-kilometer strip of the Turkish-Syrian and thus to clear the Mare-Jerablus line of ISIL jihadists. The two parties have also reached a deal that this area will be given to the control of Syrian Arab groups, as the PYD will not be allowed to move the west of Euphrates, according to diplomatic sources.

However, Russia’s heavy military campaign around Aleppo and Idlib preoccupies Syrian Arab forces and there is a need of more of local forces willing to fight against ISIL in that particular area, Turkey and the U.S. agree. 

Turkey won’t fly over Syria

Biden and Turkish officials have also evaluated the ongoing tension between Turkey and Russia after the former downed a Russian warplane on Nov. 24 due to an airspace violation. 

The assessment made by the American officials underlined that Russia is still “very angry” and “embarrassed” over the downing of their jet and that there is a risk of retaliation.  Diplomatic sources recalled that the two parties have agreed that the anti-ISIL coalition’s aerial operations should be conducted safely and in a way so to not cause “mistakes” that could spark a fresh NATO-Russian tension in Syria.

To this end, Turkey will continue to suspend its flights over Syria but will contribute to the fight against ISIL with its long-range artillery.