Ankara (GPA) – With Turkey threatening a new operation in Syria, it seems the US has caved to Ankara again, conceding to establishing a new safe zone.
After almost a year of threats now, the United States has seemingly finally found some way to appease Turkey’s concerns over the activity of Kurdish groups in Northern Syria, at least temporarily. This latest development was a result of even higher tensions than usual in the past week with Ankara threatening to launch an immediate operation into Syria, an option the Pentagon called “unacceptable.”
Whether this statement by the Pentagon earlier this week was meant as a threat is unclear, but it is pretty apparent how it could be perceived as one. Regardless of this, Turkey has remained consistent in its pattern of the last few years, refusing to back down to the United States.
As a result, after three days of intense talks between US and Turkish envoys and multiple public threats by Turkish President Recep Erdogan to launch an operation into Syria, the two nations agreed to manage the proposed safe-zone from a joint operations facility inside Turkey.
The US agreed to this new measure as a way to protect their allies in the Kurdish led People’s Protection Units (YPG), who Turkey considers an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Depending on the politician or official in the US, the YPG connections to the PKK are either direct or don’t exist at all but Turkey feels the fact that many PKK members became leaders in the YPG that it’s pretty obvious they’re connected. The PKK is on the list of terrorist organizations banned by both Turkey and the US.
Turkey has also been making an effort to speed up the process of sending Syrian refugees back across the border. Much like when Turkey went into Afrin during Operation Olive Branch, this new agreement with the US may also establish a Turkish-administered zone for Syrian refugees to be resettled in. Over the last several years, Syrian refugees in Turkey have continued to grow as a political burden on Erdogan and, with the Turkish economy currently in a downturn, the Turkish government is desperate to remove refugees from their care.
While Turkey has already been a party to various safe zone schemes across Syria, this is the first one brokered by Washington and Ankara rather than Moscow and Ankara. The problem with this new plan is, the territory being negotiated in Syria is neither Turkey’s or the States’ to control.
This new agreement between Turkey and the US is likely to anger Moscow, which has been demanding that Washington finally withdraw troops from Syria as Trump promised to do last year after a phone call with Erdogan. Russia and Syria both rightfully see the presence of US and Turkish troops in Syria as a violation of the nation’s sovereignty and any new agreements like the one made yesterday are more of the same.
It is unclear how any of this will actually shake out and it is anyone’s guess if this new safe zone will ever actually materialize but one thing seems certain, Turkey is apparently capable of bluffing Washington to get a deal. Another recent example of this apparent new standard is the arrival of the Russian made S-400 air defense systems that the US has practically begged Ankara not to purchase.
Erdogan is apparently a gambling man, who bets on how badly the US (and NATO, in which Turkey has the second-largest military) needs Turkey as a partner. Once again, it seems Erdogan made the right move, called Washington’s bluff, and has proven again that Washington needs Ankara more than Ankara needs Washington.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.