Trump-Erdoğan talks ‘last chance’ for safe zone – Turkish press

Talks Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to hold with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly this week will centre on Syria and could represent the last chance for the creation of a safe zone in the country, Turkish commentators said.

Erdoğan discussed bilateral relations with Trump in a phone call on Sunday after arriving in New York on Sept. 21.

Though no formal meeting between the presidents has been announced, they are expected to hold talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23 and 24.

The situation in Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria, is “one of the most important topics of discussion if a meeting takes place,” Voice of America quoted Erdoğan as saying.

The advance of Syrian government forces into Idlib this summer has sparked fears of a new large-scale humanitarian crisis, as many of the province’s estimated population of 3 million were forced towards the Turkish border. Idlib was up for discussion at a trilateral summit with Russian and Iranian leaders in Ankara last week.

But even more critical for Erdoğan and Trump this week will be the project to create a safe zone in the northeast of Syria, where Turkey has threatened to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

U.S. and Turkish officials last month agreed to work together to create a buffer zone free of fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terrorist organisation due to its links to outlawed Kurdish militant groups in Turkey.

However, columnist Mehmet Barlas said in the pro-government daily Sabah on Monday that Erdoğan is dismayed at the continued support the United States is sending to the YPG, and is pessimistic about the chances for the safe zone project to succeed.

Barlas quoted the Turkish president as saying the United States had recently sent a 200-truck convoy from Iraq to YPG-held territories in northern Syria.

The YPG has played a crucial role in the U.S.-backed global coalition against the Islamic State, but Erdoğan said the extremist jihadist group had been virtually wiped out, leaving no justification for Washington’s continued support for the Kurdish group.

“Things are not going great and Turkey is close to concluding that the United States is stalling Ankara,” journalist Yahya Bostan wrote for Daily Sabah on Sunday.

Despite U.S. assurances that the YPG fighters are withdrawing, drone footage has shown that some of their fortifications near Turkey’s border are still manned, Bostan said.

Erdoğan has set a deadline at the end of September for satisfactory progress on the safe zone to take place, warning that otherwise Turkey is prepared to take unilateral action.

“These talks will be final,” said journalist Fatih Çekirge, referring to the expected New York talks, in a column for pro-government daily Hürriyet on Monday.

The journalist said he believed the presidents would make a firm agreement on a 20-km deep safe zone south of Turkey’s border with Syria.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has made painstaking preparations to launch an operation south of the border if this does not come about, Çekirge said.