UN chief urges common ground on Syria safe zone

  • 1 Aug 2019

Antonio Guterres says all parties need to come to an agreement in order to avoid new forms of confrontation that might emerge in northeastern Syria.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. ( Reuters )

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday urged the US and Turkey to broker a mutually-agreed plan to institute a safe zone in northeastern Syria.

"We really encourage all parties to come to an agreement in order to avoid new forms of confrontation that might emerge," Guterres said in response to questions about safe zone proposals in the region.

Turkey’s National Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and James Jeffrey, the US envoy for the anti-Daesh coalition, last week met in Ankara and agreed on the need to establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria.

But the NATO allies have been unable to reach a consensus on the details of the proposal.

The planned safe zone to be established in northern Syria at the border with Turkey which is under YPG control.

US-backed YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK that is considered as a terrorist organisation by both, Ankara and Washington and controls over one-third of Syrian territory including country's oil wells.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.

Akar, in a recent phone call, with his US counterpart Mark Esper said that Turkey expects the US to completely end its support to the PKK/YPG terrorist group.

Turkey says the safe zone should be created under the criteria that include retrieval of all weapons from the PKK/YPG situated in the safe zone, wiping off the terrorist organisation from the safe zone which should be 30 to 40 kilometers in width, destruction of PKK/YPG's all tunnels, shelters, equipment and ammunition in the area which will be controlled by Turkey and the US in coordination.

In this file photo, US Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey is seen in Washington at a press conference. November 14, 2018.(AA)

Disagreements over safe zone

Disagreements over the scope of a safe zone in northeastern Syria and other issues are preventing its implementation, US President Donald Trump's envoy for the anti-Daesh coalition said Thursday.

“The Turks want a deeper zone than the one that we think makes sense," James Jeffrey told reporters at the State Department, noting Washington proposed an area of some 5-14 kilometers along the Syrian border with heavy weapons pulled further back.

He further cited unspecified "differences of opinion" over how the Washington and Ankara "would operate in that zone".

"We think that this is a deal we can sell to the people of northeast Syria. That's very important," he said.

Jeffrey added that the US is mindful of Turkish security concerns with regards to the "PKK and offshoots of the PKK" but is "equally" committed to protecting the main US partner in northeast Syria from coming under attack.

"We are committed to those who have fought with us not being attacked and not being harmed by anyone," Jeffrey said.

"That includes our concerns about the Turks."