Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper on Monday that Ankara would not allow for the formation of a “terror corridor” to its south, amid a period of heated rhetoric related to U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militias.
Akar also told Esper to recall Turkey’s role as both customer and producer in the F-35 fighter jet programme, which Turkey was expelled from over a dispute about its procurement policy.
Akar told Esper in a phone call between the officials that Turkey was the only country that could adequately and effectively maintain control in the proposed safe zone in northern Syria, CNN Türk said.
Turkey last week said it was running out of patience with the United States in talks to set up what it calls a safe zone in northern Syria and remove Syrian Kurdish force the area.
Turkey wants a safe zone at least 30 km deep with Turkish forces in full control, as Akar reiterated to Esper during the phone conversation. The United States favours a 10 km-deep area with no permanent Turkish troop presence.
The zone is meant to provide a buffer between Turkey and parts of northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK is an armed group that has been war for autonomy in Turkey for over three decades.
Unless Ankara is able to reach an agreement with Washington, Turkey will be forced to create the safe zone on its own, as stated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on July 26, CNN Türk quoted Akar as telling Esper. The Turkish defence minister also spoke to his U.S. counterpart on the F-35 programme, it said.
Akar recalled that Turkey is both an investor and production partner in the F-35 programme and as such, the defence minister said, the project should proceed on its designated path.
Akar’s comments follow a move by the United States earlier this month to remove Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter programme, following the country’s procurement of the S-400 Russian-made air defence system.
Accordingly, Turkey will lose its production work on the jet by March 2020.