Syria `Safe Zone’ should be entrusted to Turkey, Erdogan says

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president. (Bloomberg pic)

ISTANBUL: Any “safe zone” or buffer to be declared in northern Syria should be managed by Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“We cannot leave the safe zone to coalition forces,” Erdogan said Sunday in an interview with state-run TRT television. “Such a safe zone should be entrusted to Turkey. We’ll then provide the security of that zone.” Erdogan’s use of the term “coalition forces” was a short-hand for US troops.

In the latest Syria diplomacy, Erdogan said he’ll meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb 14 in Sochi.

The zone has been the point of deep disagreement between the US and Turkey since President Donald Trump announced in December his intention to pull American troops from the area. Trump faced criticism – some within his own administration – on at least two fronts: the contention that the Islamic State was not yet defeated and the risk that Turkey would attack Kurdish forces allied with the US.

Trump lent support to the creation of a safe zone in a Jan 13 tweet, though he also threatened to “devastate Turkey economically” if Turkish troops attacked Kurds in Syria.

Turkey is conducting “low-level foreign policy” with Syria, he said. “Intelligence organisations aren’t supposed to do the same thing that leaders do,” he said, implying an intelligence contact with Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Turkey broke off ties with the government in Damascus soon after the Syrian war broke out, and Erdogan has repeatedly called for Assad to give up power. Putin suggested in January that Turkey reassess its relationship with Syria, in line with a security agreement the two nations signed in 1998.