US, Turkey improve ties with Syrian base

A Turkish military truck patrols next to a Turkish national flag hoisted at the border with Syria on August 14, 2019, in Akcakale, in Sanliurfa, southeastern Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2019

US, Turkey improve ties with Syrian base

  • The joint military operations center is set to serve as a platform for negotiations between Turkey and the US

ANKARA: A Turkish and American joint military operations center for a Syrian “safe zone” will be fully activated next week, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced on Friday. 

US military officials recently arrived in Turkey’s border province of Sanliurfa to prepare the center, establish a safe zone in northern Syria and address Ankara’s security concerns along its southern border.

Oubai Shahbandar, a defense analyst at the New America think tank, believes that the development of a safe zone will raise hopes for regional peace. 

“A safe zone means that hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees can one day return without fear of the Assad regime destroying their homes,” he told Arab News. 

According to Shahbandar, the center means that Ankara and Washington are close to reaching a geopolitical solution for their mutual security concerns in Syria. 

The center is set to serve as a platform for negotiations between Turkey and the US, two NATO allies who clash on the presence of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, a US partner in their fight against Daesh. 

However, Ankara considers the YPG as an offshoot of the PKK, a Kurdish insurgent group that has waged war against the Turkish state for almost four decades.

The PKK is a designated terrorist organization according to the US and the EU.

It is unclear whether the new military center will serve to halt a potential third military offensive by Turkey into northern Syria or if it is designed to mend ties between Ankara and Washington.

One thing is clear: The US is giving a lot of attention to the security of the zone, where about 900 to 2,000 of its troops are currently stationed.

“Turkey won’t let the US interrupt operations east of the Euphrates like they did in Manbij,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently said in a speech.

The Manbij deal between Turkey and the US focused on the withdrawal of the YPG from the city, but progress soon stalled.

However, Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said that Turkish and American perspectives on the safe zone do not overlap to a large extent. 

“What Turkey wants to create is a safe zone, from which it can undermine the administrative and security mechanism of the YPG/PYD/SDF step by step. However, from an American perspective, the zone should be a ‘buffer zone’ in which it can protect the PYD/SDF,” he told Arab News. 

Cengiz added that the two sides will try to find mechanisms to administer the divergences with regard to northeastern Syria and that the joint military operation center is important to achieve this. 

“The center has the potential to mend the ties of both sides if they succeed in reaching a consensus on details of the planned safe zone.

“If the safe zone will be established in three phases, and if the security of the planned area will be provided by the local military councils, the US would find a chance to mend ties with Turkey,” Cengiz said. 

While the deal can help alleviate Turkey’s security concerns, Cengiz assesses that a real transition of power to the local military councils would contribute to the localization project of the YPG. 

“A transition of power to local actors has the potential to lessen the YPG/SDF dependence on the PKK,” he added.


Erdogan hit by more arms bans as pressure grows over Syria invasion

Updated 16 October 2019

Erdogan hit by more arms bans as pressure grows over Syria invasion

  • United States threatens more sanctions
  • Britain, Spain and Sweden joined Germany and France in suspending military exports

ANKARA: Three more countries halted arms sales to Turkey on Tuesday as pressure mounted on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the Turkish invasion of northeast Syria.

Britain, Spain and Sweden joined Germany and France in suspending military exports, and the US threatened Ankara with more sanctions unless Erdogan halts the offensive.

“We will keep our defense exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “No further export licenses to Turkey for items which might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review.”

Spain, a major arms exporter to Turkey, urged Erdogan to “put an end to this military operation” because it endangered regional stability, increased the number of refugees and threatened Syria’s territorial integrity.

“In coordination with its EU partners, Spain will deny new export licenses for military equipment that can be used in the operation in Syria,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Sweden also halted exports of military combat equipment. “Two permits that have been active have now been recalled,” it said.

BACKGROUND

Vice President Mike Pence will hold talks with Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, and the UN Security Council will discuss the invasion.

Erdogan’s assault against Kurdish forces, launched last week, has prompted a chorus of international condemnation. “Many NATO allies are very critical and are condemning the military operation in northern Syria,” said Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, the Western military alliance of which Turkey is a member.

Russia’s presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said Turkey had no right to deploy its forces in Syria permanently, and Moscow had not approved the operation.

US President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions on Turkey on Monday, and on Tuesday the US said more sanctions would follow unless the invasion was halted.

“The plan is to continue the pressure on Turkey as we evaluate our chances to return the relationship to normal, a major element of that return to normal would be a cease-fire,” a senior administration official said. “And by cease-fire what I mean is forces on the ground stop moving on the ground.”

Vice President Mike Pence will hold talks with Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, and the UN Security Council will discuss the invasion.