US-Turkey working group ‘agree on Manbij roadmap’
ANKARA - Agence France-Presse
Turkish and U.S. officials on May 25 agreed on a “roadmap” for further cooperation to ensure the security of a city which became a major headache between the NATO allies, according to a joint statement.
The draft plan oversees the withdrawal of the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants from Manbij in northern Syria and the security of the region to be maintained by Turkish and U.S. soldiers.
It still requires a ministral approvals from the governments of the two countries.
The northern city of Manbij is held by the YPG, a group which Ankara says is the “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The U.S. has a military presence in Manbij and has provided military support to the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), causing anger from Turkey.
After Turkey launched a cross-border operation against the YPG in the northwestern enclave of Afrin in January, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey could take the offensive to Manbij.
The offensive also caused tension between the allies because Washington urged Turkey to show claimed it could harm the fight against ISIL.
U.S. officials were in Ankara on May 25 as part of the working group on Syria.
After talks with Turkish counterparts, the statement was issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the U.S. embassy in Ankara.
“The two sides outlined the main contours of a roadmap for their further cooperation in ensuring security and stability in Manbij,” the statement said, giving no further detail.
The working group was established to try to resolve the Manbij issue and coordinate U.S.-Turkey efforts in Syria after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and then U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met in February.
Çavuşoğlu is due to meet the new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on June 4 and they are expected to endorse the roadmap drafted by the working group.
According to the joint statement, the two men will “consider the recommendations” of the working group during their meeting.
Ankara says the YPG is linked to the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the U.S. and the European Union, and has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
Erdoğan has many times publicly urged the U.S. to halt support for the YPG.
His longtime ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) published a manifesto on May 24 calling for “concrete steps” by the U.S. to end its backing of the YPG and provide “concrete support” to Turkey in its fight against the PKK.
Erdoğan vowed Turkey would “continue its operations in Syria until the last terrorist is cleared.”
The U.S. and Turkish officials held the first meeting of the working group in Washington in March and shaped the roadmap which was expected to be discussed by the foreign ministers of the two countries on March 19, but the meeting was cancelled after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the departure of his top diplomat Rex Tillerson, to be succeeded by the current CIA chief Mike Pompeo.
On March 13, Çavuşoğlu revealed the principal outcomes of the draft plan. Turkey and the U.S. would oversee the withdrawal of YPG militants from the town of Manbij and Turkish and U.S. soldiers will provide the security of the region, according to the plan.
The YPG will not be in the local administration of Manbij, and the main principle will be the administration of groups in line with their population, Çavuşoğlu told reporters, noting that Manbij will be a model for the administration model to other towns where the YPG advanced during its fight against ISIL.
“We will practice this model first for Manbij, later for other places. The east of Euphrates River, Raqqa and other places under the control of YPG is included in this [plan],” he said.
“So that [the area] from the east of Euphrates to Deir Ezzor, until the region controlled by the Syrian regime, will become a safe haven,” the minister stated, adding that after the political settlement in the war-torn country, all these regions will be under the control of Syria, under the national Syrian security forces.
Turkey has not made any demands from the Syrian government regarding Manbij, Çavuşoğlu said, while adding that Ankara would “monitor” the return of weapons given to the YPG by the U.S., an issue that has strained ties between the NATO allies.