Spotlight: Turkey, U.S. agreement on Syrian safe zone prevents Turkish incursion, diplomatic crisis

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-08 22:09:44|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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ANKARA, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Turkey and the United States have agreed to establish a Joint Operations Center for the Syrian safe zone, a move aimed to both prevent new Turkish incursion in northern Syria and avert a diplomatic crisis between the two NATO allies.

Following three days of intense meetings in Ankara, U.S. and Turkish military delegations agreed on Wednesday to set up as soon as possible a Joint Operations Center to "coordinate and manage the establishment of the safe zone together," a statement from the Turkish Defense Ministry said.

In positive response, the Turkish lira gained around 0.4 percent against the U.S. dollar on Thursday, selling at 5.47.

Turkey previously accused the United States of dragging its feet, and demanded Washington sever its ties in northern Syria with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a faction that Ankara sees as a terrorist group and a severe threat to its national security.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Sunday to launch an operation in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates river, to remove the Kurdish YPG militia who control the area following months of Turkish military deployment near the Syrian border in a prelude to an incursion.

In response, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington would "prevent any unacceptable offensive" by Turkey against the YPG, making the last-ditch efforts in Ankara even more crucial.

This latest agreement, however, seems to have brought the United States and Turkey closer and averted a new Turkish offensive which would have put the two allies in a very delicate and dangerous situation over their long-standing differences on the Syrian crisis.

Erdogan on Wednesday evening hailed the decision on creating a safe zone.

"It was important that a step be taken east of the Euphrates and this is being taken together with the Americans," he was quoted by state-run Anadolu agency as saying.

Meanwhile, analysts saw the deal as an important step to unlock months of bilateral differences.

"After all their disagreements on the Syrian war, the purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems by Turkey and the U.S. sanctions that could follow, Turkey and the U.S., which have been allies in NATO since 1952, need a success story," said Serkan Demirtas, a political analyst and journalist.

"Their relationship needs such a deal to recover from all negative things and perceptions that have impacted their relationship in recent years," Demirtas noted.

Oytun Orhan, a specialist on the Syrian crisis from the Ankara-based think tank Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said the deal concluded in Ankara seems good enough to alleviate Turkey's concerns in northern Syria.

"We may assume that the Americans came with a better proposal than the previous ones, stipulating a deeper and larger area (safe zone) with greater Turkish military involvement regarding its command mechanisms addressing Turkey's red lines," he told Xinhua.

During months of discussion, one of the contentious points was the actual size of demilitarized region, whether it should extend 32 km into Syria as Turkey prefers, or just half of this length as the United States proposed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Ankara released a statement saying a "peace corridor" would be established in northern Syria that allows refugees to return.

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who are facing increasing resentment in the country.

The Turkish-U.S. deal would be a catalyst for the safe and voluntary return of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to their homeland, said Orhan.

"As the United States will also be involved in the creation of a safe corridor, European countries may be convinced to participate in reconstruction efforts in this zone, allowing the repatriation of a sizable number of Syrians," he noted.