Turkey: Syria road map to ‘rebuild mutual trust’ with US

Members of the Manbij military council wait prior to a press conference in Manbij on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2018
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Turkey: Syria road map to ‘rebuild mutual trust’ with US

  • The YPG, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has received extensive American backing, said on Tuesday it would withdraw.
  • Turkey has repeatedly accused the YPG of unbalancing the pre-war ethnic balance of towns like the former Daesh de-facto capital of Raqqa which were predominantly Arab.

ANTALYA/BEIRUT: A road map agreed with Washington for the withdrawal of a US-backed Kurdish militia despised by Ankara from a flashpoint Syrian town will help rebuild trust between the two NATO allies, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this week reached a deal on the withdrawal of People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters from the town of Manbij which lies west of the River Euphrates close to the Turkish border.

The YPG, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has received extensive American backing, vowed on Tuesday it would withdraw.

Cavusoglu told AFP in an interview that the move was a key part of rebuilding ties with Washington damaged by a string of rows including Syria and also issues such as American citizens detained in Turkey.

“The US couldn’t keep its promises in the past. But I think they also understood that it is a very critical issue, and this is why we agreed to work,” Cavusoglu told AFP in his home southern region of Antalya where he is campaigning for Turkey’s June 24 elections.

“The implementation of this roadmap will help us actually to rebuild the mutual trust between two allies,” he added.

But he warned that the plan now had to be implemented on the ground. “If not, there will be a lack of trust,” he said. Tensions between Washington and Ankara have so far scotched expectations of a strong alliance emerging between President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cavusoglu expressed skepticism over the vow to withdraw by the YPG, who Turkey accuses of being the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“I’m not sure they are leaving,” said Cavusoglu.

In a related development, the dominant US-backed Syrian Kurdish party that controls large swaths of oil-rich territory in northeastern Syria is prepared to hold talks with the Syrian regime over the future of the area, a senior Kurdish official said Wednesday.

The proposition came a day after Turkey and the US agreed on the “roadmap” to resolve a dispute over the northern Syrian town of Manbij, which is controlled by the US-backed Kurdish fighters, Washington’s main ally in Syria.

He said the aim of the roadmap is to ensure that the YPG leaves Manbij and then have the US and Turkey work together to establish a local security structure and “decide together who is going to govern Manbij.

“This is the aim, so now it is time to implement it,” he said.

He said the assurance of stability in the area would encourage the return home of Syrian refugees, some 3.5 million of whom live in Turkey.

Turkish forces earlier this year ousted the YPG from the Afrin region of northern Syria in a military operation.

But Cavusoglu indicated that he wanted similar agreements with the US to prise the YPG from towns it had seized from Daesh militants with American backing close to the Turkey border.

Turkey has repeatedly accused the YPG of unbalancing the pre-war ethnic balance of towns like the former Daesh de-facto capital of Raqqa which were predominantly Arab.

“Eventually they should also leave from other areas... because Raqqa for instance is a 90 percent Arab city,” said Cavusoglu.

Ankara has long opposed the YPG controlling a continuous stretch of territory on its border up to Iraq, fearing the creation of an autonomous region or even independent entity that could embolden Turkey’s own Kurds.


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 21 May 2019
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.