Turkey-US safe zone accord to undergo confidence test
Last week, we may have witnessed the most solid developments concerning the safe zone to be established in northern Syria thus far. After tough negotiations that went on for weeks, Turkey and the U.S. agreed on three articles. The first of these is the application for precautions to be taken to eliminate Turkey's security concerns.
To clarify Turkey's security concerns here: Ankara demands that all heavy weapons, ammunition of the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), in the region be seized and fortifications, trenches and tunnels made by the organization be destroyed before the setting up the safe zone. In order to establish the safe zone or the "peace corridor" as Turkey's National Security Council describes it, the PKK and YPG need to be demilitarized.
Although security and diplomatic circles in Ankara have reacted positively, the cautious optimism and warnings regarding the implementations of the U.S. and the depth of the safe zone continue. Because of the U.S.' insistence on a much narrower area for the corridor than Turkey, it is perceived by Turkey as though Washington may be refraining from imposing sanctions on the PKK and YPG. Perhaps the most solid and fast-paced article of the agreement put into application has been the second one. Whereby the U.S. military has started to come to Turkey this week in line with the establishment of a Joint Operations Center in Turkey for the coordinated administration of the safe zone with the U.S. The infrastructure work and critical functions of the center were discussed with 90 U.S. personnel currently in the area along with a U.S. delegation of six in the 3rd regimental command in Şanlıurfa province's Akçakale district where the center is planned to be set up. The deputy commander of the U.S. European Command also visited Şanlıurfa yesterday for meetings.
The Defense Ministry announced that works in this regard will be carried out without delay. The day before, Turkey initiated duties in the area with drones.
The final article of the agreement reached as a consequence of intense negotiations with the U.S. between Aug. 5-7, is rendering the safe zone a peace corridor following the first two articles and ensuring the safe return of Syrian Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens displaced by both the regime and the PKK and YPG to their homes. The Syrian Turkmen Assembly (STA) Coordinator Cemil Doğaç İpek whose opinion Turkey has taken regarding the safe return of Syrians said, "As Syrian Turkmens, we wait for a detailed statement by Turkish and U.S. official authorities. However, our priority is that the safe zone in the area is established is according to the security needs of both Turkey and Syria. Besides, as Turkmens, we want that the tomb of Süleyman Shah moved to its original place and that our Turkmens soldiers with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Turkish soldiers provide the area's security together within the scope of the agreement."
İpek who expressed that they expect the Turkmens and Syrians displaced by the PKK/YPG to return and thus prevent the PKK's demographic engineering in the Tel Abyad region, stated that the peace corridor, which they hope will last permanently, will be a major gain for protection against terrorist organizations not only for Turkmens but also for all Arabs and Kurds in the area.
"In fact, Turkey's stance in this matter is clear. As you know, people running from terrorist organizations such as the PKK and Daesh had to seek refuge in Turkey. Turkey searches for safe residential areas for these people in Syria. If the West will not be of help in this regard, they have to make room for these people and be prepared for new great refugee influxes, since Turkey has hosted more than its capacity and this situation is far from sustainable for Turkey," İpek continued.
Additionally, indicating that they demanded the Aleppo and Bayırbucak regions to be included in the safe zones under the control of Turkey in order to establish thorough security in northern Syria, İpek said "This is not just our desire, but that of the people living in the mentioned areas."
İpek who stressed that the PKK's cadre coming from Qandil are residing in Turkmens' houses
in Manbij, added that they approach the process warily due to the fact that the U.S. did not hold its promises regarding Manbij. "Therefore we are in favor of Defense Minister Hulusi Akar's plans B and C to be applied in the contrary case. We expect that the U.S. shows effort (if permanent peace is the goal) to apply the agreement with an approach that prioritizes the security concerns of Turkey and the people of Syria." he added.
On the other hand, Ankara has always had a plan B concerning Washington's fulfillment of its obligations and the implementation of the agreement on the field. The sentiment expressed during the Qurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha) message by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is meaningful in this matter as the president pointed out that Turkey has a history of triumphs, especially in the month of August; Erdoğan said that both the Cyprus Peace Operation and Operation Euphrates Shield were was carried out in August and that this year, Turkey will again be triumphant in August.
However, this expression is an obvious message indicating that Turkey's plan B is ready if the U.S. makes concessions to the PKK/YPG regarding the depth and width of the safe zone agreed or to be agreed with Turkey besides the establishment of the joint operations center. Will the U.S. strive to clear the area out and demilitarize terrorist groups in line with Turkey's demands or will it take steps to push off the organization a little further away? These are the questions currently being asked in Ankara.
Washington might have prevented Ankara's unilateral intervention for now or have postponed an actual conflict with Turkey as in the Manbij process; yet, if the test of confidence fails, it is highly possible that we will see harsher steps taken by Ankara. In these regards, it has to be said that the Turkey-U.S. safe zone agreement will be a new area of implementation for the test of confidence between the two countries.
*Nur Özkan Erbay / Daily Sabah