WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — Three days of talks between the US and Turkey over Syria ended in disagreement on Wednesday regarding the establishment of a safe-zone in northeast Syria.
“New US proposals on a Syria safe zone are not at all satisfactory,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said on Wednesday, following the conclusion of the discussions led on the US side by Amb. James Jeffrey, US Special Representative for Syria and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
At the same time, the US Senate is pushing the White House to impose sanctions on Turkey for its acquisition of the advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400, as called for in legislation known as CAATSA (Combatting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.)
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump met with 46 Republican senators to discuss the issue. While the powerful Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, James Risch (Idaho), and other senators, pushed for sanctions, Trump argued that he could achieve more through less-confrontational measures in negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Turkey has mobilized “large number of troops and armored vehicles” at three points along its border with Syria in the east, where the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) control a large swathe of territory, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) stated on Wednesday.
Possibly, the troop concentrations are related to Ankara’s negotiations with Washington, although it cannot be excluded that Turkish forces will, at some point, cross the border. On Saturday, in a phone conversation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned his Turkish counterpart against any such action.
However, the ISW suggested that Turkey probably has a political aim. “Erdogan likely intends to compel the US to grant him concessions in the ongoing negotiations over a possible ‘safe zone,’” it said, adding, “but he may also attempt to use this threat to deter the Trump Administration from imposing sanctions” for Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400.
Indeed, when Trump met Erdogan at the G-20 summit in Japan last month, Erdogan threatened that if sanctions were imposed on his country, he could withdraw Turkey from NATO and terminate US access to Incirlik Air Base, NBC News revealed on Wednesday.
In a press conference after the summit, Trump described Erdogan as a “tough cookie,” but provided no details. The NBC report helps explain Trump’s characterization of Erdogan.
In his meeting on Tuesday with the Republican senators, Trump seemed to suggest that matters that had appeared resolved, were, in fact, still open.
Trump told the senators that he wanted to strike a deal with Erdogan, in which Turkey would not put the S-400 into operation, but, instead, purchase the US Patriot air defense system, as well as the F-35 fighter jet, according to NBC. Yet just last week, as Russia began shipping the S-400 to Turkey, the US formally ended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program.
Jeffrey’s meetings in Turkey coincided with the first visit of the new CENTCOM Commander, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, to northeastern Syria, where, on Monday, he met with the Kurdish commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Gen. Mazlum Abdi.
Turkey considers the SDF’s Kurdish leadership, the YPG, a terrorist organization because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.)
CBS News accompanied McKenzie and reported that nearly 1,000 US Special Forces remain in Syria, with “no end in sight,” because the Islamic State is “still alive and dangerous.”
Jeffrey met with Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, on Monday, and Akar spoke strongly against the YPG. According to a statement from Turkey’s Defense Ministry, Akar told Jeffrey, “Elements of the PKK/YPG terrorist group should be cleared” from the proposed safe zone. “Their fortifications should be destroyed and heavy weapons in their hands should be collected.”
In addition, referring to McKenzie’s meeting with Abdi, Akar stated that Turkey is “irritated by high-level military and civilian US authorities’ meetings” with YPG leaders in Syria.
Jeffrey headed an interagency delegation of US officials who met on Monday with their Turkish counterparts in the High-Level Working Group on Syria. According to a read-out from the US embassy in Ankara, they held “an overall discussion on Syria and specifically for the northeast.”
“Both sides committed to accelerated and concrete progress on the Manbij Roadmap,” the embassy’s summary continued, and “discussed detailed proposals to enhance Turkey’s security along the Turkish border in northeast Syria.”
The embassy described Jeffrey’s discussions in Ankara as “forthright, positive and productive”—in contrast to the critical statements of senior Turkish officials.
“Our military to military relationship with Turkey is strong and productive, and we expect it to remain that way,” a Pentagon spokesman likewise told Kurdistan 24. “Turkey has been an ally for decades, and we continue to have an open dialogue with them at all levels.”
It is difficult to understand why the US and Turkish accounts of their discussions, at least their public statements, appear so different.
Jeffrey also met Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, and he saw Presidential Spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, on Wednesday. The State Department originally said that Jeffrey’s visit would last two days. However, as he was scheduled to depart Ankara at mid-day on July 24, his meeting with Kalin was moved to early on Wednesday.
Editing by Nadia Riva