Turkey says meeting with US on Syria ‘positive’ - GulfToday

Turkey says meeting with US on Syria ‘positive’


Syrian boys sit with luggage as they wait to board buses returning to Syria in Esenyurt district of Istanbul on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse

Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday that talks with the US aimed at averting the need for a Turkish military intervention into northern Syria had been “positive,” according to state news agency Anadolu.

“We witnessed with satisfaction that our partners grew closer to our position. The meetings were positive and quite constructive,” Akar was quoted as saying as the talks in Ankara entered a third day.

Turkey has repeatedly warned that it is preparing an offensive into Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as a terrorist offshoot of the PKK which has fought a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for the past 35 years.

The US has supported the YPG as the main fighting force against the Daesh, and its defence officials have been meeting their Turkish counterparts in Ankara since Monday in a bid to prevent an intervention.

“We would prefer to act together with our American ally. If that isn’t possible we have said multiple times that we will do what is necessary,” Akar told Anadolu.

All sides agree that a “safe zone” needs to be created in northern Syria to keep the YPG away from Turkey’s borders.

But Turkey, the US and the YPG differ on how large the neutral zone should be, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned in recent days that patience is running out.

“Turkey has the right to eliminate all threats against its national security,” he said in a televised speech on Tuesday.

“God willing, we will carry the process started with (previous offensives into Syria) to the next stage very soon.” US Defence Secretary Mark Esper countered that any unilateral action by Turkey would be “unacceptable.”

Turkey and the US are Nato allies but have grown increasingly estranged over a number of issues, including American support for the Kurds and Turkey’s decision to buy a Russian S-400 missile defence system.

Turkish media outlets have often shown images in recent weeks of military convoys heading for the border area, carrying equipment and fighting units.

Turkey has twice carried out unilateral offensives into northern Syria against the Daesh and YPG, in 2016 and 2018 respectively.

“In the meeting, we were glad to see that our counterparts approached our viewpoint,” Akar said, according to state-owned Anadolu Agency.

Akar did not give details on that point. He added, “Our plans, preparations, the deployment of our units in the field are all complete. But we said we wanted to act together with our friend and ally, the United States.”

Washington has proposed a two-tiered safe zone, with a 5-kilometre demilitarised strip bolstered by an additional 9 km cleared of heavy weapons - stretching in total less than half the distance into Syria that Turkey is seeking.

Turkey has also said it must have ultimate authority over the zone, another point of divergence with the United States.

Three Turkish officials who spoke to Reuters this week expressed impatience that the talks have yet to yield results, and warned that Ankara was ready to act on its own.

Turkey has twice sent forces into northern Syria in the last three years, citing security concerns caused by Syria’s eight-year-long civil war, and President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday a third incursion was imminent, targeting YPG-controlled territory east of the Euphrates river.

US President Donald Trump announced last year that US forces would leave Syria and began an initial withdrawal, a decision applauded by Ankara, and the two Nato allies agreed to create the safe zone. On Tuesday, a US Defence Department report warned about a revival of Daesh in Syria’s northeast, saying US-backed Kurdish groups were not equipped to handle the resurgent extremist cells without US support.

“The partial (US) drawdown (has) occurred at a time when these fighters need additional training and equipping to build trust with local communities and to develop the human-based intelligence necessary to confront resurgent (Daesh) cells and insurgent capabilities in Syria,” the report said.

Syrian government forces captured two northwestern villages in an intensified offensive on the last rebel-held part of the country, inching closer to the town of Kfar Zeita which has been held by insurgents since 2012, opposition activists and state media reported on Wednesday.


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