ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey and Russia have no disagreement over the proposed safe zone in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “With Russia we have no problems on this issue, as the regions will be liberated from terrorists, as happened in the wake of the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations,” Erdogan told reporters in a joint news conference with Putin. Erdogan and US President Donald Trump are both backing the creation of a “safe zone” that would push 32-kilometre deep into Syria along the length of the border with Turkey.
Neither side has released details on what exactly that zone would look like, who would secure it, and what would become of the Kurdish forces and people who live there. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a branch of the PKK. Erdogan said the zone would be “cleansed of terrorists,” but did not give any more detail.
He said defence and intelligence ministers are still deliberating. Putin noted that a 1998 agreement between Turkey and Syria is still valid.
He was referring to the Adana agreement that saw Damascus shut down the PKK in Syria and expel the group’s founder Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured a year later and is now being held on Turkey’s island Imrali prison. Under the agreement, Damascus said it would not permit the PKK to operate within its borders. The YPG and the Kurdish administration in northern Syria have founded their self-autonomous administration on the political ideals espoused by Ocalan.
They maintain, however, that they are a distinct organization from the PKK. The United States armed the YPG in the war against ISIS and said it was not a terror group. The US is now pulling out of Syria – a process expected to take place over the next few months. Erdogan said on Wednesday it is important that “terror groups” are not allowed to benefit from any power vacuum that might result. The Kurdish administration is in talks with both Damascus and Moscow about its future.
The Kurds are hoping to reach a deal with the Syrian regime that would see them maintain a level of autonomy and its armed forces, while gaining protection from the government against Turkish military threats. Putin, who has propped up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said he supports dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds.
Such talks will benefit Syria and neighbouring states, he said. He said that the US pulling out of the country – where it is without the authorization of Damascus or under a UN mandate – is a “positive step.”“In case those steps, those plans are really implemented, it will become a positive step and will help stabilize the situation in that troubled area of the Syrian state that is currently controlled by Kurdish units,” he said.