Washington can help strike a deal between Turkey and Kurds in Syria - analysis

With a policy that will address Turkey’s security concerns in northern Syria and create economic incentives for cooperation between Ankara and Kurds, Washington can fold its NATO ally back into a U.S.-led regional bloc, said analysts Merve Tahiroğlu and Andrew Gabel in Foreign Affairs.

The relations between Turkey and the United States has soured in last years as a result of the U.S. support to Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and has plans the launch a military operation to remove the armed group from the north-eastern part of Syria and to establish a safe zone.

The U.S. administration, on the other hand, has to decide how to protect its interests in Syria after leaving a residual presence of 400 U.S. troops in the country, according to the analysts. Washington has to counter Iranian influence, prevent a return of ISIS, isolate the Syrian government, and protect the people of north-eastern Syria from further slaughter. 

Washington, as a result, needs to reshape the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which to a large extent dominated by the YPG, into a force capable of providing long-term stability, Tahiroğllu and Gabel said.

“To keep northeastern Syria in the hands of its partners, the United States must find an arrangement that placates Turkey,” they said. 

According to Tahiroğlu and Gabel, the United States as a first step should attempt to limit the YPG’s ideological influence by conditioning further support for the SDF on the expansion of local Arab recruitment into the group’s command structure. Ankara might object an SDF that includes the YPG, but realistically the United States is the best-positioned actor that can alleviate Turkey’s security concerns by ensuring that northeastern Syria does not become a PKK sanctuary, the analysts said. 

“Given the United States’ leverage over the Syrian Kurds, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may well conclude that he can accept the presence of the YPG in northeastern Syria as long as the group is constrained by U.S. pressure and the formal structures of a decentralised SDF,” the authors said. 

The United States should attempt to marshal northeastern Syria’s valuable natural resources to deepen Turkey’s interest in the stability of the region, according to Tahiroğlu and Gabel. To do that the analysts suggested the United States to consider redirecting all of this aid to Syria exclusively to the northeastern part of the country and to secure funding for American businesses to develop SDF-controlled oil fields and export infrastructure in northeastern Syria. The authors said that financial resources that will allow the SDF develop refineries capable of processing local crude, can greatly increase the group’s bargaining power within Syria and provide Turkey with the economic incentive to strike a deal.