The U.S.-led Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced its readiness to support the creation of a safe-zone under international guarantee to protect northeastern Syria “from the danger of genocide” and “foreign intervention.”
The statement in Arabic, released on Wednesday, January 16 said the SDF “will offer all necessary support and assistance for the formation of a secure region, which is being discussed for north and northeastern Syria.”
“We maintain that our region is the only region in which all the inhabitants of Syria can coexist together,” the statement read.
“We have not posed an external threat to any of the neighboring countries, especially not to Turkey, with which we hope for and look forward to arriving at understandings and solutions which ensure the continued stability and security along Turkey’s border regions.”
The statement said the SDF will “guarantee protection for all coexisting ethnic groups from the danger of genocide, and that will be done with international guarantees, to assure the protection of the inhabitants of the region, to stabilize the security situation, and to prevent of foreign intervention into it,” in apparent reference to Ankara’s threats to launch an imminent military operation in northeast Syria.
The announcement comes one day after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government had reached an agreement with the U.S. to establish a security zone along the Syria-Turkey border.
“We have reached an agreement of understanding that is of historic importance,” Erdogan told lawmakers after a phone call with Trump on Tuesday, adding that the 30-km (20-mile) buffer zone “will be created by us.”
Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin reiterated that on Tuesday, adding that details of the arrangement still needed to be worked out.
Erdogan denied the possibility that the YPG will play any role in the creation of the safe zone.
Northern Syria’s Democratic Union Party, or PYD, promptly rejected that proposal, tweeting: “A safe area under the auspices of Turkey in northern Syria is tantamount to a declaration of genocide against the Kurdish people.”
How such a buffer zone would be created by Turkey is unclear. A 20-mile zone would encompass the majority-Kurdish towns including Qamishli and Kobane as well as strategic cities controlled by SDF-affiliated forces, such as Tal Abyad and Manbij. It would also include Ayn Issa, the new administrative center for northern and eastern Syria.
Ankara considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and its political wing the PYD, to be inextricably linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. The YPG is a core component of the Coalition-backed SDF.
Erdogan publicly rebuffed an American delegation’s requests last week for assurances of safety for those who had fought with the Coalition against ISIS.
“It is not possible for us to make compromises on this point,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his AKP party on Tuesday. “Those who are part of the terror corridor in Syria will receive the necessary lesson. There is no single difference between the PKK, YPG, PYD and Daesh.”
“We will not accept a safe area under Turkey’s supervision and [it] must be under international auspices,” the PYD’s twitter account quoted Aldar Xelil, a senior member of the Movement for Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), as saying on Tuesday.
Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on the phone on Tuesday. Trump tweeted that the two discussed the “20 mile safe zone” and “economic development between the U.S. & Turkey – great potential to substantially expand!”
In a tweet, National Security Advisor John Bolton called it an “excellent conversation” in which Trump “reemphasized the consistent U.S. position on standing by the Kurds and those who fought with the U.S.”
On Sunday, Trump appeared to threaten in a tweet to “devastate Turkey economy economically if they hit the Kurds.”
Erdogan said on Tuesday the remarks “saddened” him, but said the call was “positive” after Trump raised the prospect of the safe zone. “He once again confirmed his decision to withdraw from Syria,” he said.
Ankara considers the establishment of the governance structures near its borders to be a threat to Turkey’s internal security, and has been massing forces and threatening an imminent military incursion to clear areas of northern and eastern Syria of the YPG for months.
U.S. officials have scrambled to formulate a plan to negotiate protection for the SDF and SDC since Trump’s surprise decision on December 19 to withdraw U.S. troops from the country.
A delegation led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey was rebuffed in Ankara last week after attempting to secure guarantees of safety for their northern Syrian partners.
Jeffrey met with Syrian Democratic representatives in northern Syria last week. Aldar Xelil told The Defense Post on Friday after the meeting that they have yet to receive any guarantees.