Turkey not satisfied with safe zone progress – foreign minister

Turkey is not satisfied with progress on the safe zone in northern Syria, where U.S. and Turkish officials still disagree on the extent of the planned buffer area, Daily Sabah quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had suggested the negotiations for the safe zone were going according to schedule, though the president warned that Turkey would “not be stalled” in the project.

Ankara views Kurdish-led organisations that control areas south of its border in northern Syria as terrorist groups due to their links to outlawed Kurdish militants in Turkey.

However, the Syrian Kurdish groups have played a key role in the U.S.-backed global coalition against ISIS, and Washington wishes to prevent an invasion of the region threatened by Turkey since last year.

On August 7, U.S. and Turkish officials announced that they would form a joint operations centre to work on plans to create what Turkey calls a “safe zone”, with the pro-Kurdish fighters removed.

Çavuşoğlu said U.S. officials had expressed differing opinions on the depth of the safe zone. Turkey has said the zone should run to a depth of up to 30 km, and Erdoğan has discussed using the area to build new settlements to rehouse over 1 million of the Syrian asylum seekers currently resident in Turkey.

However, the United States and its Kurdish partners favour a far smaller expanse to create the safe zone. Turkish officials have expressed concerns that their U.S. counterparts are using delaying tactics, and Erdoğan has said Turkey will take unilateral action if plans for the safe zone do not proceed on schedule.

The situation in Syria is one of several disagreements that have soured Ankara’s relationship with Washington over the past year. Another is Turkey’s purchase of S-400 missile defence systems, which U.S. officials say could give Moscow a back door through which to access sensitive NATO data.

Washington suspended Turkey’s participation in the new generation F-35 fighter jet programme in response to the purchase. However, Çavuşoğlu said at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday that the United States had been “actively mulling” a return to the programme for Turkey, Daily Sabah reported.