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US special envoy visits Turkey to 'address Ankara's security concerns'

  • 30 Apr 2019

The US State Department's special envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, will lead a delegation to meet Turkish officials to discussTurkey's security concerns in Syria following the US withdrawal from the country.

The US special envoy to Syria James Jeffrey and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar after a meeting in the capital Ankara in 25 January, 2019. ( AA Archive )

James Jeffrey, who serves as the US special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, and Washington's special envoy Joel Rayburn are visiting Turkey, with a packed agenda ahead. 

The US State Department said on Monday that the delegation, led by Jeffrey, would discuss the situation in Syria with top Turkish security officials in the three-day visit. 

The talks will include “addressing Turkey's legitimate security concerns, promoting stability and security in northern Syria as the US military draws down its presence," according to the State Department - as well as the fight against Daesh.

What is Turkey’s security concern in Syria?

The answer is clear: YPG activity on Turkey’s border with Syria.

Several issues strain the relations between the two NATO allies, but Washington’s never-ending support for the YPG dominates the agenda. 

The YPG is the Syrian extension of PKK which Turkey, the US, and the EU consider a terror organisation. 

The group has carried out attacks against Turkey, including suicide bombs that killed civilians. 

During a Senate panel in April 2016, former US Defense Chief Ash Carter admitted the links between YPG and PKK.  

However, the US describes the YPG as “a reliable ally in the fight against Daesh” in Syria, despite acknowledging the group’s link with the PKK terror organisations, turning a deaf ear to Turkey’s warnings.

Moreover, the head of US special forces, General Raymond Thomas said it was Washington who suggested the YPG rebrand itself as the 'SDF' to avoid Turkish concerns. 

"They formally called themselves the YPG, who the Turks would say equated to the PKK," he said. 

"So we literally played back to them that you've got to change your brand. What do you want to call yourself besides the YPG? With about a day's notice, they declared that they were the Syrian Democratic Forces."

"I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put democracy in there somewhere. But it gave them a little bit of credibility," Thomas added.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK has been responsible for the death of some 40,000 people, including women and children. The PKK is the parent organisation that goes by different names in different countries. In Iran, it's PJAK, PCDK in Iraq and the PYD in Syria. The PYD’s armed wing is the YPG.

Despite Washington’s unchanged stance on the PKK-linked group, James Jeffrey says Washington now acknowledges Turkey’s security concerns in Syria after a planned US withdrawal is completed. 

A safe-zone free of YPG

Turkish and US officials announced a few months back that they’ve been working on "a safe zone of some length along the Turkish border," saying the zone would have no YPG/PKK presence.

The call came following US President Donald Trump’s announcement of withdrawal from Syria, stating the elimination of Daesh as the catalyst for the move.

Turkey has long been pushing for a safe-zone inside Syria to prevent civilian casualties. The safe-zone would have prevented a refugee flow from war-torn Syria, as Turkey currently hosts more than 3.5 million refugees. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey couldn't leave the security of a safe zone to others while it is under threat, suggesting it should be run by Turkey.

"We are determined. What matters for us is that the safe zone should be under Turkey's control. We can't leave it to Germany nor France or the US. I put that plainly."

Jeffrey's meetings with the Turkish officials are expected to focus on the US withdrawal and the control of the planned safe-zone after they’re gone. 

After visiting Turkey, the US officials will travel to Geneva where they will meet with other Syria envoys from Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.

In Geneva, the Jeffrey-led delegation will "discuss the latest developments in the ongoing Syrian conflict, with particular emphasis on rising violence in northwest Syria, the need for unhindered humanitarian assistance throughout the country, and further support for UN efforts to foster a Geneva-based political process," the State Department said.

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