While Turkey agreed to pause its military operation in northern Syria, Washington guaranteed that the YPG/SDF will pull out from the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence forged a temporary deal on Thursday under which Turkey would pause its military operation in northern Syria for five days and provide the YPG an exit from the Ankara-proposed safe zone.
In 2015, then US President Barack Obama started backing the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, a terrorist organisation in the eyes of both Turkey and the US. Ever since, Turkey has been demanding an end to what the US called a “tactical, transactional and temporary” partnership to defeat Daesh.
The agreement came nine days after Turkey launched its military operation in the region. As the US announced the withdrawal of its forces from Syria, many in Turkey saw it as a fulfilment of one of Ankara's long-standing demands. A hashtag in Turkish, #turkiyekazandi, meaning ‘Turkey won’ was trending in first place on Turkey’s Twitter minutes after a copy of the Erdogan-Pence agreement was made public.
The 13-point agreement has three main focus points that Ankara has sought from Washington for the last four years.
- Reaffirming the relationship and coordination between the US and Turkey as NATO allies
The NATO partnership of Turkey and the US is a recurring stress point in the joint statement by Ankara and Washington.
While asking the US to stop providing arms and backing to YPG in the past four years, Ankara often reminded Washington that as a NATO partner it had a duty to ensure Turkey's borders are protected.
Turkey's role in NATO has been recognised twice in the agreement and specific emphasis is placed on maintaining unity amongst the alliance partners by using the “one for all and all for one” phrase.
Under the agreement, the US will facilitate YPG's withdrawal from the area designated as a safe zone in the next 120 hours, starting from Thursday, a pause period for the Turkish armed forces. If completed, the US will fulfil its first promise regarding the YPG in the last four years.
To create a functional safe zone and address Turkey’s national concerns, the agreement says that heavy weapons delivered to the YPG must be collected. The agreement also sets out that fortifications and other fighting positions must be disabled.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that 32-kms deep safe zone will stretch to 440 kms along the Syrian border.
Acknowledging Turkey’s concerns at its borders and the necessity of a safe zone
In the past, both under the presidency of Obama and Trump, the US has repeatedly said it understands Turkey’s concerns regarding the YPG and promised that the cities captured from Daesh with the help of the YPG would be returned to their original inhabitants. But the YPG continued to control the captured cities through its councils. Turkey saw the US promises as mere attempts to normalise the YPG's presence in the eyes of Turkish state.
On September 8, Turkey and the US began conducting joint patrols in Manbij and other locations in safe zone in Northern Syria in a US attempt to assuage Turkey’s security concerns.
With the recent agreement, the US for the first time also acknowledged Turkey’s grounds for the operation.
By entering Ras al Ayn on October 9, Turkey divided the YPG's so-called cantons between Jazira and Ayn al Arab (also known as Kobani), which was described as an 'autonomous administration' in Syria. For Turkey, it meant nothing less than a 'terror corridor'.
- No sanctions against Turkey
Since the Turkish operation began in Syria, US President Donald Trump has given mixed messages to Ankara. On October 7, Ankara’s announcement of the operation came after a phone call between Trump and Erdogan that is widely seen as the US’s green light to the operation.
Later in a tweet, however, he threatened Turkey with sanctions over the operation.
That has changed again with the agreement. “Once the Operation Peace Spring is paused, the US agrees not to pursue further imposition of sanctions under the Executive Order of October 14, 2019,” the 12th article of the the US-Turkey agreement said.
“Everybody agreed to things that three days ago they would have never agreed to,” Trump said referring YPG and Turkey. “This is a situation that everybody is happy,” he said answering journalists’ questions.
The agreement also stressed that both Turkey and the US are committed to the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria and UN-led political process and ensuring the safety and rights of residents of all population centres in the safe zone.