Turkey, U.S. disagree on five issues over northern Syria safe zone

While Turkey and the United States agreed on the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria, there are still disagreements between the two allies over five important issues, pro-government Yeni Şafak reported on Saturday.

Turkey and the United States announced last week that they had decided to establish a joint operation centre in Turkey for the planned safe zone, which Ankara sees essential for Turkey’s national security.

Turkey sees the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and has repeatedly said it plans to launch a military offensive against the YPG which controls some enclaves in northeast Syria along the Turkish border. The YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday that a U.S.-Turkish joint operations centre set up in southeastern Şanlıurfa province to work on a planned safe zone in north and east Syria would begin full operations next week. Akar said the two sides had agreed on a specific set of deadlines for the joint operation centre’s work, and that Turkey would be closely monitoring this to ensure that it was followed. 

But according to Yeni Şafak, disagreements over several issues undermine efforts to establish the safe zone. The first issue is the depth of the safe zone. Turkey says U.S. President Donald Trump promised a 20-mile (32 kilometre) deep safe zone, while, according to a Wednesday report in Habertürk daily, the U.S. officials propose a safe zone that will consist of three different security belts. In the first 5-kilometre deep strip, Turkish and U.S. troops will conduct joint patrols.

Turkey also demands all terrorist groups to be removed from the safe zone, while the United States says only those who are linked to the PKK should be removed, while the majority of the SDF should remain in the area. 

The third issue is the heavy weapons of the YPG, Yeni Şafak said. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Thursday accused the United States of continuing to provide military equipment to “terrorists” .

The fourth problem is what Çavuşuğlu calls the U.S. officialls’ stalling tactics referring to a 2018 U.S.-Turkey security deal over the northern Syrian town of Manbij. Turkey wants the Turkish and U.S. troops to enter northern Syria before the end of the month and take control in certain areas. 

The final problem is the administrative structures in Kurdish-held towns, according to Yeni Şafak. The United States want the already established administrations to continue to work, while Turkey insists that those administrations should be run by the Arab and Turkmen majority, accusing the YPG of changing the demographics of the region.