Turkey-US talks intensify to shape Syria withdrawal

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Turkey and the United States will intensify talks this week to shape the latter’s withdrawal from Syria amid differences over the status of the YPG and Turkey’s preparations for a new military incursion into the eastern Euphrates.

Diplomats and military officials will resume talks in the Turkish capital in order to follow up last week’s comprehensive negotiations chaired by White House National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief advisor, İbrahim Kalın that sought coordination of the U.S. withdrawal so that no vacuums would be created to the advantage of the terror groups.

Talks made clear that one of the U.S. priorities was to urge Turkey to give assurances on the protection of the YPG after the withdrawal while the Turkish government underlined that it will never seek any other country’s consent in taking own measures against the terrorist presence just across its borders.

Therefore, this week’s talks are believed to address this major fraction between Turkey and the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemed hopeful for a breakthrough on the matter.

“We are confident we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those – that protects the Turks from legitimate terror threats, and prevents any substantial risk to the folks who don’t present terror risks to Turkey,” he told reporters late Jan 12 in United Arab Emirates.

He also underlined that the U.S. “recognizes the Turkish people’s right and President Erdogan’s right to defend their country from terrorists, and we also know that those who aren’t terrorists, those who were fighting alongside of us for all this time deserve to be protected as well.”

Jeffrey will be in Ankara

Pompeo also announced that James Jeffrey, special envoy for the coordination of anti-ISIL fight, will travel back to Ankara after his talks in Syria.

Jeffrey, who was part of Bolton’s delegation, travelled to Syria after Turkey talks although no official statement over the scope and mandate of his travel has been publicized. It’s believed that the seasoned diplomat would also have contacts with senior YPG officials in order to overcome the impasse.

Pompeo announced Jeffrey’s planned talks after a phone conversation with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Jan. 12. Pompeo said he spoke with Çavuşoğlu on the said issue, stressing “We had this conversation. Many details still to be worked out, but I’m optimistic that we can achieve a good outcome there.”

Turkey’s main demands from the U.S. is to collect all the weaponry given to the YPG and to allow local or Turkish forces to use the U.S. military facilities in the northwestern Syria.

US non-paper outlines five points

In an interview with a local radio, Bolton said he delivered a non-paper to the Turkish team last week that outlines basic points of the U.S. policy with regard to its withdrawal and expectations from Turkey.

“You know, what we did was to give the Turks a piece of paper, a non-paper, that’s a fancy diplomatic term for just being a set of ideas, but expressing what the U.S. position was fully agreed upon by the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, so that the Turks knew we were all speaking with one voice despite the media commentary that would have you believe otherwise,” Bolton said.

According to a news report by the Middle East Eye, five points outlined on the U.S. non-paper are as such:

Firstly, the U.S. reiterated that the withdrawal of its anti-ISIL forces in northeastern Syriawould happen in a deliberate, orderly and strong manner.

Secondly, the US committed itself to defeating the remnants of ISIL and continuing to damage IS targets throughout the withdrawal period.

Thirdly, the US declared that it wants a negotiated solution to Turkish security concerns with regard to the YPG, meaning that it opposes any mistreatment of opposition forces who fought with the US against ISIL.

Fourthly, the US would pursue the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces from Syria and a political solution in Syria.

Finally, the US made clear that the release of captured ISIL militants – described as “foreign terrorists” by the US official – held by the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces is “unacceptable”.

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