Uncertainty remains over Syria safe zone as U.N. rules out peacekeeping force

The details of the “safe zone” discussed by Turkey and the United States as a way to prevent clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Northern Syria remain unclear after United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres ruled out the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the region.

“We have not any plan for any deployment in Syria at the present moment,” Guterres said in response to a question during a press conference on January 18.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed a proposal for a 20-mile safe zone on Tuesday, after weeks of uncertainty over U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the area.

U.S. President Donald Trump had announced an immediate withdrawal from northern Syria, where U.S. forces have deployed alongside Kurdish fighters to fight the extremist jihadist Islamic State. However, concerns that a withdrawal would leave those Kurdish militias, which Ankara views as terrorist groups, vulnerable to a Turkish attack have delayed the plan.

Guterres’ statement on Friday rules out the only solution deemed acceptable by Kurdish political leader Aldar Khalil, who told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday other solutions would “infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region.”

The Syrian regime’s foreign ministry likewise denounced plans for a safe zone on Wednesday, saying any such move would constitute “outright aggression.”

Guterres agreed that any solution in northern Syria would have to respect the country’s “unity and territorial integrity,” adding two further principles for a solution: recognition of the diversity of the population, and taking into account “the legitimate security concerns of countries, and namely of Turkey.”

“These are the three criteria that we have in analysing any proposal that might eventually exist, we have not received any,” Guterres said.

Ankara has been pushing to administer the safe zone itself, a solution that would drive the Kurdish militias away from major population centres in the region stretching along the Turkish-Syrian border.

The United States, however, has remained vague about its own vision of a safe zone and whether it will accept Turkey’s proposal.

“We continue to have conversations with allies and partners in Turkey and Syria to ensure stability and security in NE Syria,” Pentagon spokesperson Commander Sean Robertson told Ahval in response to questions on the safe zone.

“I do not want to speculate on any outcomes at this time,” he said.