Lukewarm response to German proposal for international force in Syria safe zone

Germany brought a proposal to NATO’s Autumn session that would see an international peacekeeping force dispatched to Syria’s border with Turkey to monitor a security zone.

Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring dominated the NATO meeting, with most member states opposing the offensive against Kurdish-led groups that had fought on the front lines against Islamic State, but the German proposal only received a “lukewarm response”, Euractiv reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brought a halt to the military operation after reaching agreements with Washington and Moscow that should see the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) withdraw to around 30 km south of Turkey’s border.

Turkey will retain control of a 32-km deep zone between the border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn, while Russia and Turkey will conduct joint patrols in border areas to the west and east of the zone.

But German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the task of patrolling the border should not be left to Russia and Turkey alone, telling reporters before the NATO meeting “the status quo is not a satisfactory solution”.

“The Sochi agreement has not brought peace and it doesn’t offer a basis for a political solution in the long run. We are looking for a solution that includes the international community,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer, referring to the deal Erdoğan struck with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Black Sea town on Tuesday.

The proposal was a rare intervention from Germany, but “served to steady an alliance that has been badly shaken by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Turkey’s military operation,” Euractiv quoted diplomats as saying after the meeting.

Ankara launched the operation on Oct. 9, three days after Trump agreed to withdraw U.S. forces that had been deployed alongside the SDF, which Turkey views as a terrorist group due to its links to Kurdish insurgents within its own borders.

The military operation was widely condemned by Turkey’s allies and neighbours, and NATO defence ministers reiterated their concerns at this week’s meeting, where the talks, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg implied, had been fraught. Stoltenberg called them “frank and open” with “different views”.

The German proposal, which would ideally see a United Nations mandated force deployed in northeast Syria, was welcomed by Turkey and the United States, whose Defense Secretary Mark Esper reiterated condemnation of Operation Peace Spring, but said that U.S. troops would not be redeployed to the area.

The German proposal had the rare distinction of being approved both by Ankara and by the SDF, whose commander Mazloum Kobani told reporters “we demand and agree to this,” the Times of Israel reported.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said before the NATO meeting that it was necessary for Europe to “deal with current events taking place at the border of our continent because these are issues that directly affect several EU member states".

But the response to the German proposal at the NATO meeting from EU states was sceptical, and the initiative took several member states’ diplomats by surprise, Euractiv reported.

“NATO allies especially wondered whether in practice it meant a mission with some NATO partners, or the backing of the entire alliance,” the news site quoted sources at the meeting as saying.

The French delegation said it was doubtful a European-led intervention would be approved by the UN Security Council, Euractiv said.