Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says the US and Turkey will decide on a road map for Syria’s Manbij when he will meet his counterpart in Washington on March 19.
Speaking to the reporters who were with him on the plane on his way to Moscow on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gave detailed information on last week’s meeting between the American and Turkish officials. The US and Turkey will assist in the withdrawal of YPG militants from Syria's Manbij. Turkey and the US will secure the region, but if that fails, Ankara will conduct a military operation.
“In Manbij, the YPG will pull back, US and Turkish troops will be there. We will supervise the YPG retreat. The US and Turkey will maintain security until the area is cleared from all threats. The US and Turkey will decide that together, as well as the local people who will govern. If the YPG doesn’t leave, then there will be other military operations. This goes for the east of the Euphrates, up to the regime-held areas,” he said.
When the US started the operation against Daesh in Manbij in May 2016, the YPG was its ally on the ground. Washington promised Ankara that the group would withdraw after the complete defeat of Daesh. It hasn't kept its promise, but says it is still committed.
In February, then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Turkey and both countries decided to set up working groups to co-operate in Syria, starting in Manbij. The first meeting by these working groups was held on March 8 in Washington.
Manbij first on the agenda
Syria’s Manbij has been held by the YPG since August 2016. This has angered Turkey, since the YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, a designated terror group by Turkey, the US and the EU, and has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 30 years. The YPG now controls nearly a quarter of Syria’s territory with the support of the US. Ankara also sees the YPG as a threat to the demographic structure of Syria, since the group has displaced Arabs and Turkmens by force in some of the territories that it holds.
Cavusoglu said that the working groups are focused on how they can bring stability and how they can decide on who will govern. The guiding principle would be that the governance should be in proportion with the population.
“In other words, if Manbij is 90 percent Arab, then those who govern and create the security apparatus and ensure security should also be about 90 percent Arab. But the YPG is in no way included in this, and this is our request. The YPG is a terrorist organisation for us. Thus, we will work on this with the US. First we will start with Manbij. We will implement a model in Manbij and later take this to other regions. This goes for Raqqa, as well as all other YPG-held regions east of the Euphrates. Records of all the populations exist—ones that indicate the number of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and so forth in the cities before the start of the war, and before the YPG entered the area,” he said.
He added that the two countries should decide on the road map:
“We are working on a foreseeable timeframe, but the initial discussions were, in the end, a general outline. It will be more clear after the meeting between the foreign ministers on the 19th [of March]. We need to reach an agreement with the US. A roadmap with set dates will be decided on during the March 19 meeting. These will include when it will be implemented, how long it will take to implement, and then how [the model will be implemented] in other regions—all of this will have set dates.”
According to the Turkish minister, the US has given the Turkish side its offers/ideas in written form, as did Turkey, but there are still some issues they view differently.
Regarding the disarmament and withdrawal of the YPG from the areas they hold, Cavusoglu said that the Turkish officials are working to ensure that the US will accept the plan.
A couple of hours after Cavusoglu's comments, the US President Donald Trump tweeted that he ousted Rex Tillerson and that the new Secretary of State became director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.