Turkey has the capacity to create a “safe zone” in Syria on its own but will not exclude the United States, Russia or others if they want to cooperate, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. Speaking to a local Turkish television channel on Thursday, Cavusoglu added that Turkey was in indirect contact with the Syrian government, without providing details. He also said Ankara and Moscow were on the same page regarding a Syrian political solution aside from the issue of whether President Bashar al-Assad should stay in office, commenting on a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
Erdogan said last week after a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump that they had agreed that Ankara would set up a 32km security zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. The technical aspects of the zone were still being discussed.
Dispute over YPG
Turkey is seeking the zone to contain a US-allied Kurdish militia, which the US has armed and trained to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. The North-Eastern Syrian region along the Turkish-Syrian border is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-ISIL force spearheaded by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) considered by Ankara as a “terrorist” group.
The US demand for YPG fighters’ safety has been a cause of tensions between the two NATO allies, which led to Trump threatening Ankara with economic devastation if it hits the allied fighters. Turkey has welcomed Trump’s decision to pull out the US forces as it makes preparations for an offensive in northern Syria against the YPG. However, Trump’s decision, which confounded his own national security team, has prompted accusations at home that he is abandoning an ally. Erdogan and Trump have had several phone conversations to discuss the US troops withdrawal from Syria as well as the proposed security zone along the Turkish-Syrian border