U.S. greenlights Turkish "safe zone” in Syria - Turkish FM

The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has confirmed U.S. backing for the establishment of a 30-kilometre Turkish “safe zone” within northern Syria, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Wednesday.

Çavuşoğlu said that Tillerson had told him of the United States’ support for the safe zone when they discussed Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch, a military incursion into the northwest Syrian Afrin region targeting the armed Kurdish groups stationed in the area, opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper said.

The operation was launched on Jan. 20 after the announcement that a U.S.-backed 30,000-strong border force would be established in Syria, mostly consisting of fighters from majority-Kurdish groups including the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

While the United States considers these groups vital allies in the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey views them as affiliates of the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

The United States has adopted a conciliatory tone with Turkey since before the launch of Operation Olive Branch, including repeated calls by Tillerson and the State Department to deescalate the situation and focus on the fight against the Islamic State.

Çavuşoğlu spoke on Tuesday at a meeting in France about Tillerson’s promise of U.S. support for a safe zone, according to the Cumhuriyet’s report. The establishment of a buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border has been an important objective for Turkey for years as the civil war raged on in the bordering country.