ANKARA: Ankara’s agreement with Washington to set up a so-called safe zone in northeastern Syria, along with a joint coordination center, has sparked debate about whether it will completely prevent a Turkish offensive into the region.
A day after the announcement of the deal, Damascus criticized it harshly, saying that it is a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and accused Ankara of “expansionist ambitions,” according to the state-run SANA news agency.
As the deal is meant to resolve Turkey’s security concerns, experts think it may lead Ankara to halt its plans for an incursion into Syria, at least for now, although no details were given about the scope of the safe zone and timetable for its implementation.
The US State Department said it welcomed the results of its recent talks with Turkey on setting up a “peace corridor” in northern Syria.
“The talks seem to me like a pretty good outcome under the circumstances. The agreement on establishing a new process buys time and space, which ideally can be used to shift from arguing over tactical steps to arguing over more substantive ones,” Dareen Khalifa, senior Syria analyst at International Crisis Group, told Arab News.
Ankara’s main priority is to push back US-allied Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the region. Turkey’s National Security Council met last week over a possible military offensive into Syria against the YPG, which it believes is affiliated with the PKK terror group that has been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
According to Khalifa, the prospects for a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus are clearly fading, especially after the statement of Syria’s Foreign Ministry.
Turkish soldiers were killed in opposition-held Idlib province by regime forces and “Ankara’s control over swaths of Aleppo and their support to the opposition are all contributing factors,” she said.
Khalifa also noted that “it is not clear that there was an agreement over permanent Turkish forces in the north east.”
In its statement, Damascus urged Syrian Kurds to align with the Assad government to prevent the implementation of the “aggressive US-Turkish project.”
Yasin Kucukkaya, a Syria expert from the Global Political Trends Center think tank in Istanbul, said Turkey preferred an “unarmed diplomacy” with the US for a certain time in northern Syria.
“I think all relevant parties, including the Syrian Democratic Forces which include the YPG, were satisfied by the outcome of the negotiations between American and Turkish delegations, because any unilateral move of Turkey would bring damage on the ground,” he told Arab News.
Ankara had blamed Washington for dragging its feet over its security concerns, and had insisted on it breaking its ties with the YPG militia, which controls a large part of northern Syria.
Kucukkaya said that the deal halted Turkey’s possible intervention into the region for now.
“Although Turkey’s target is to eradicate the YPG and its offshoots, it also prioritizes any withdrawal of the support given to this group,” he added.
However, experts are cautious in any medium-term assessment of Turkey’s plans into the region.
“It is premature to consider whether this deal has definitely ended Turkish ambitions for an offensive. The bilateral negotiations only prevented an extensive war potential on the ground,” Kucukkaya said.