Feb 27 2019

Top U.S. officials in Turkey to discuss safe zone, Mideast peace

Two U.S. delegations are set to visit Turkey this week, to discuss the proposed safe zone in Syria and push the economic part of a U.S. peace plan spearheaded by President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, reported Emirati news outlet The National.

The joint U.S.-Turkey working group will meet in Ankara later this week, three weeks after a meeting in Washington, to discuss the parameters of a safe zone, U.S. arms sales, and economic cooperation between the two countries, sources told the National.  

U.S. Special Representative James Jeffrey is expected to take part, after having met Turkish officials in Munich last week.

Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdoğan aims to create a Turkish-controlled safe zone in Northern Syria following the planned U.S. withdrawal. But his plan has been rebuffed by the U.S.’ Kurdish allies on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and is now seen as less likely, said the National.

Last week Trump backtracked on his decision to fully withdraw from Syria, and will instead leave around 400 U.S. troops (out of 2,000), according to Bloomberg.

Instead of a Turkish-policed zone that is rejected by the Kurds and the Syrian government, the Trump administration is looking to bring together an international force of some 2,000 troops, with the help of NATO.

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East Program at Foreign Policy Research Institute, sees growing divergence in the United States’ and Turkish views on Syria. “They share little in common in Syria,” he said.

U.S. officials appear to want control of the proposed safe zone, with some for-hire Arab groups monitoring on the ground, explained Stein, while Turkey has said it wants total control of the safe zone.

“These positions are at odds with one another – and for obvious reasons: the U.S. proposal does not deal with the SDF in a way that Turkey is willing to accept. And vice versa,” said Stein.

The other delegation is led by Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, set to visit Turkey on Wednesday to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Kushner on Monday began a six-country tour, which includes Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, where is he is expected to roll out Washington's Israel-Palestinian policy, including establishing borders. He is accompanied by Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. envoy on Iran Brian Hook.

Turkey was one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. decision in December 2017 to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising the city as Israel’s capital, for domestic political reasons.