Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Donald Trump (File)
US officials, including Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, are in Turkey this week as the two sides hold tense discussions about a “safe zone” in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.
A US delegation arrived in Turkey on Monday to discuss the rival American and Turkish plans for a 32-km deep zone across the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire along the Syrian-Turkish border.
The other will accompany Kushner, who is expected to focus on his oft-cited but little-developed “peace plan” for Israel and Palestine in Wednesday discussions.
The US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, is expected to be in the negotiations after meeting Turkish officials in Munich last week.
The “safe zone” was prompted by Donald Trump’s impulsive decision, made during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on December 14, to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria. Many of the personnel work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who have fought the Islamic State since autumn 2015 and reduced it to a small pocket on the Iraqi border. But coalition partners such as the UK and France say they will not keep their forces in Syria if the Americans depart.
Turkey considers the Kurdish militia YPG, the leading faction in the SDF, as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK. Erdoğan’s “safe zone” demands the withdrawal of all YPG fighters, and called on the US to retrieve weapons given to the group.
US officials have never defined their zone, which would be enforced by US warplanes and personnel redeployed in western Iraq as a reaction force. Meanwhile, the Pentagon and high-level advisors have pulled back Trump’s withdrawal order, extending the timeline to four to six months and now ensuring that at least 400 troops — half with the SDF — remain in Syria.
Erdoğan said on Tuesday that he does not believe the US will take back weapons from the YPG: “The [American] generals…said that they have the serial numbers, and they will collect the weapons when all is done. I do not find this sincere.
He warned, “If this withdrawal becomes a stalling method, our approach will be different.”
The Turkish President claimed that coalition partners will now keep 500 personnel in northern Syria, alongside 200 to 400 US troops.