Tensions between Washington and Ankara have flared over a presidential phone call that threatens to derail an offer to create a Syrian safe zone along the Turkish border. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that the U.S. had agreed to a 30-km deep safe zone after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The offer was one of several gestures from the Americans to calm tensions after Turkey launched an offensive into Syria that targeted Kurdish militias supported by the U.S.
However, the lack of trust was again displayed when Turkey disputed the White House version of a phone call between Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday.
According to Turkish sources, Trump told Erdogan that the U.S. no longer supplied the YPG with weapon, but this detail was missing from the White House version. Cavusoglu even accused Trump officials of drafting their version of the call before the discussion took place.
The call came after a series of meetings between Turkish and U.S. officials this week over the “Olive Branch” operation into Syria’s Kurdish-held city of Afrin.
Turkey wants to clear the city of militants from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), but the U.S. has been supporting, training, advising and equipping the YPG with weapons for several years as part of their strategy to combat ISIS forces.
The YPG, and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD), are considered terror groups by Ankara due to their deep ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has fought an insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
One of the objectives of the Afrin operation is to create a conflict-free area inside Syria’s borders to eventually resettle civilians living in Turkey who wish to return to their homes.
Turkey has pushed the idea of establishing safe zones in northern Syria for years but have failed to secure Western backing, particularly from Barack Obama. However, Donald Trump has offered his support to the buffer zone idea in Syria for refugees fleeing the violence.
The proposal made by Tillerson at a meeting in Paris on Tuesday would to provide a shield to Turkey’s southern border towns against attacks from Syria.
On Wednesday night, two rockets fired by the YPG from the Afrin region hit a mosque and a house in Kilis, killing at least one and injuring 12 people.
Cavusoglu reacted coolly to the offer, saying on Thursday that Washington and Ankara needed to repair broken trust before discussing a security zone.
Experts remain skeptical about the feasibility of a safe zone, which could only take place once the U.S. has broken ties with Syrian Kurdish militia.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major now serving as a security analyst at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said there is a disagreement between Turkey and the U.S. over threat perception.
“Turkey sees the ongoing challenges in Syria as a survival problem from a strategic perspective, while the U.S. degrade it into a tactical case by offering an option to block the missiles that are fired to Turkey’s border towns from Syrian neighboring lands,” he added.
He said the two had to decide whether a safe zone deal will aim to resettle Syrian refugees, or provide a safe haven for Ankara-backed rebel fighters.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant at Sakarya University in Turkey, said a safe zone could let the U.S. administration create a “win-win” situation by meeting the needs of both the Turks and the Kurdish groups.
This article has been adapted from its original source.