Turkish media has reported that the US and Turkish governments have been developing a deeper mutual understanding and greater cooperation in dealing with each other’s concerns regarding northern Syria. It follows the visit of an American delegation to Turkey which was led by retired General John Allen who is President Barack Obama’s special envoy on ISIS.
Turkey and the US-led anti-ISIS coalition forces have recently appeared to have disagreed over what their priorities should be in northern Syria, despite mostly sharing the same interests.
Turkey is concerned by the activities of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria along the Turkish border as much as it is concerned with the actions of ISIS and the Bashar al-Assad regime.
However, the US-led coalition has been highly supportive of the PYD’s activities against ISIS, which has been heavily bombarded by the coalition in coordination with attacks by the PYD march.
“As part of the international coalition in the fight against ISIL [ISIS], Turkey has long been working with its NATO ally, the United States. In the latest meetings, talks have been concerned with deepening these ties, and reinforcing cooperation and coordination were discussed,” Turkish Hurriyet Daily News (HDN) reported a Turkish official as saying after the meeting.
“Options for further intensification of this cooperation were also discussed, in light of recent developments in the region,” the official added.
US Undersecretary of Defense Christine Wormuth and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu also participated in the meetings, which reportedly took place over a period of more than eight hours on July 7 and the whole afternoon of July 8.
In addition, the US delegation held meetings with Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and National Intelligence Agency (MIT) officials.
Turkish Daily Sabah newspaper reported on Wednesday that Turkish and US officials were “close to a deal” in terms of an agreement over the use of the the Incirlik military air base in the Turkish southern province of Adana by US-led coalition forces for military strikes against ISIS targets.
HDN reported, “An agreement [on the use of İncirlik] could be possible if we can agree on other terms as well,” according to an official.
As a token, Turkey has demanded the US government support the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria by the TSK.
The American delegation’s visit to Turkey has coincided with media reports that Ankara is planning to establish a safe zone along the 110-kilometre long Turkish border from Karkamis (Jarablus) to the Oncupinar [closer to Azez] border crossing at a depth of 28 kilometres to 33 kilometres and gave a directive to the TSK to take necessary measures.
The Turkish government is alarmed by both moves by ISIS near the Syrian towns of Azaz and Mare and the enlargement of the northern Kurdish enclaves under the control of the PYD along its border with Syria.
Turkey recently raised concerns over its border security and the displacement of Turkmens and Arabs from Tel Abyad. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces captured the northern Syrian border district on June 15 with support of heavy coalition air strikes.
Tel Abyad is located between the PYD declared Kobane and Jazira Kurdish “cantons,” and is of strategic importance because it commands the major trade and smuggling routes to Raqqa which is the first major city conquered by ISIS. After taking control of Tel Abyad, the PYD is now able to join both “cantons.”
The YPG is the militant wing of the PYD, which is considered by Turkey as the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed PKK. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and EU.
The American ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, recently announced that the US government has conveyed Turkish concerns regarding the territorial integrity of Syria and demographic changes in northern Syria - which are shared by the Obama administration - to the PYD’s leadership.
Pentagon spokesman Elissa Smith also said, “We treat any allegations [of ethnic cleansing] very seriously and have made clear to all actors that such behavior is unacceptable,” speaking in an interview with Anadolu Agency.
“[We] urge these groups to fulfill those public pledges, and will continue to encourage all forces in Tal Abyad to help set conditions for the return of refugees," she added.
She has also urged the PYD to administer the areas recently captured by the group inclusively and respect the rights of the local population.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s public diplomacy coordinator Cemalettin Hasimi has announced that preparations for a safe zone in northern Syria have been finished.
He said, “If developments along our Syrian border go on like this, the establishment of a safe zone could be inevitable.”