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Turkey, US agree on peace corridor in northeastern Syria

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 8/7/2019 Carlotta Gall
Hulusi Akar sitting on a stage: Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, told Turkish media outlets Wednesday morning that Ankara’s three days of talks with the US were “fairly positive.” © Turkish Defense Ministry Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, told Turkish media outlets Wednesday morning that Ankara’s three days of talks with the US were “fairly positive.”

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — The United States and Turkey agreed on Wednesday to create a safe zone in northeastern Syria that would allow Turkey to protect its borders from Syrian-Kurdish forces that it regards as a terrorist threat and provide Syrian refugees in Turkey a safe space to return home.

Defense officials from both countries issued separate but similar statements after three days of talks in Ankara, the Turkish capital. The statements gave no details on the size of the zone or how it will be policed, which may still be undecided, but the agreement was presented by Turkey as a meeting of its demands.

Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, told Turkish media outlets on Wednesday morning that the discussions were “fairly positive.”

“We gladly observed our interlocutors coming closer to our views,” the NTV television channel quoted him as saying.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had threatened a military incursion into northeastern Syria to secure the border region from Syrian-Kurdish forces. Turkey regards those forces as a threat because of their links to the PKK, which is waging an insurgency in Turkey. Turkey and the United States have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.

Erdogan had also proposed a safe zone under Turkish control to allow many of the Syrian refugees in Turkey an area within Syria that would be free of Syrian government control.

The United States, which has military forces in the area and cooperates with the Syrian-Kurdish forces, or SDF, in operations combating the Islamic State, has warned Turkey against taking any unilateral action in the region.

Discussions have been focused on the SDF pulling its forces and weaponry away from the border area and on the size of the safe zone. The United States has preferred a zone that is just a few miles wide, whereas Turkey has sought a corridor along its border as deep as 20 miles.

The agreement announced on Wednesday appeared to be aimed only at ensuring that Turkish and American forces, who are NATO allies, do not come into conflict.

The delegations agreed on “the rapid implementation of initial measures to address Turkey’s security concerns,” and to create a joint operations center in Turkey “to coordinate and manage the establishment of the safe zone,” according to a statement by the US Embassy in Ankara.

“The safe zone shall become a peace corridor, and every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country,” the statement added.

Erdogan is under growing pressure at home, amid an economic downturn and the rise of opposition political parties, to show that some of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey will start to return home.

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