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Erdogan Says Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Will Not Harbor Kurdish Separatists

Erdogan Says Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Will Not Harbor Kurdish Separatists

Monday, 21 January, 2019 - 18:30
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated Monday that Ankara will not allow Kurdish separatists to set up base in a planned “safe zone” in northern Syria.

Last week, following US President Donald Trump’s decision on December 19 to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria, Erdogan said he and Trump had discussed Turkey setting up a 20-mile-deep safe zone inside Syria along the length of their border.

Erdogan said Turkey would work with anyone willing to provide it with logistics support for the zone, but that it would take action in Syria if promises were not kept.

“We are not talking of a safe zone (as protection) against Turkey, but rather one against terrorists.”

Turkish planes regularly attack bases in northern Iraq belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for three decades for autonomy for southeast Turkey. It is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the Syria pullout process and bilateral issues in a phonecall on Monday, a Turkish foreign ministry source said.

No further details were immediately available.

On Sunday, Erdogan told Trump that Turkey was ready to take over security in Syria’s Manbij, where two US soldiers and two American civilian staff died last week in an attack claimed by ISIS.

Turkey has welcomed Trump’s decision to pull out US forces as it makes preparations for an offensive in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey says is linked to the PKK.

US forces have been helping the YPG to drive ISIS out of swathes of northern Syria, and Trump’s decision, which confounded his own national security team, has prompted accusations at home that he is abandoning an ally.

US-Turkish ties have been strained for months over US support for the YPG and a host of other issues.

“If the promises made to us are kept and the process continues, all the better. If not, we have already largely completed our preparations, so we will start taking steps in line with our own strategy,” Erdogan said.

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