Spotlight: Talks on safe zone in Syria linger amid U.S. policy zigzagging

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-21 21:49:05|Editor: xuxin
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ANKARA, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Talks between Turkey and the United States have so far failed to secure an agreement to create a safe zone in northeast Syria to ease Ankara's security concerns, amid confusion over the U.S. pullout from Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration continues to walk back its planned exit from Syria and is now considering to leave around 1,000 troops in the country, a move that would, again, cause apprehension among Washington's allies.

"We understand that there are some differences of views in the different stages of the U.S. administration regarding the pullout, but for us, Trump's announcement is valid," a Turkish diplomat told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

He said that the discussions are still ongoing over a proposed safe zone, without detailing when and whether a deal can be brokered.

Since Trump first announced a "complete withdrawal" of some 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria in December, there has been serious backpedaling as a result of internal debate in Washington.

NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. as well as European partners have launched talks to set up a safe zone in northeastern Syria, which was proposed by Trump in the event of U.S. exit from Syria to ease Ankara's growing concern over a local Kurdish militia.

U.S. forces have long relied on the Syrian People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party which is banned as a terror group by Ankara. The Kurdish fighters have been a major ally for the U.S. troops in fighting the militant group Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

Turkey insists that the proposed buffer zone should be under its control, a precondition under which Ankara will not launch a new cross-border operation against the Kurdish fighters.

Some experts believe that it is unlikely that Turkey would control such a buffer zone because of the complexity of the power struggle in Syria.

Kerim Has, Moscow-based expert on the Turkey-Russia relations, explained that it seems improbable that Ankara will convince Moscow and Washington to set up a buffer zone under its jurisdiction because of its insistent hostility towards the Syrian government and the Kurds.

Has also emphasized that the U.S. was worried that the expected U.S. withdrawal from Syria would spark a military conflict between Turkish troops and YPG fighters.

In a recent interview with state-run Anadolu Agency, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar reaffirmed Turkey's tough position with regard to creating a security zone inside Syria.

"This question has a very short answer. Who will be there? The Turkish Armed Forces. It is certain," he said.

Akar explained that this zone will span a 440-kilometer strip from east of the River Euphrates to the Iraqi border with a depth of 30 to 40 kilometers inside Syria.

Washington now faces the difficult task of alleviating the security concerns of its ally Turkey while ensuring that events in northern Syria do not pave the way for the return of the Islamic State or wider regional instability.

Experts also believe that if a deal is reached on a safe zone, it would give Ankara and Washington a unique opportunity to work together after two years of bilateral tensions stemming from differences on the Syrian war.

"Concerned about a probable Turkish intervention against the YPG in northern Syria, the U.S. is exerting efforts to prolong the talks with Turkey on the safe zone issue," said Serkan Demirtas, a Turkish journalist and political analyst.

But if the stalemate in the Turkey-U.S. negotiations continues, it will possibly result in new unilateral Turkish threats to launch cross-border attacks against the YPG forces.