Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Should Be Entrusted to Turkey, Erdogan Says

(Bloomberg) -- Any “safe zone” or buffer to be declared in northern Syria should be managed by Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“We cannot leave the safe zone to coalition forces,” Erdogan said Sunday in an interview with state-run TRT television. “Such a safe zone should be entrusted to Turkey. We’ll then provide the security of that zone.” Erdogan’s use of the term “coalition forces” was a short-hand for U.S. troops.

“We don’t support the disintegration of Syrian people, but unfortunately, coalition forces aren’t bothering with that,” he said.

In the latest Syria diplomacy, Erdogan said he’ll meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 14 in Sochi.

The zone has been point of deep disagreement between the U.S. and Turkey since President Donald Trump announced in December his intention to pull American troops from the area. Trump faced criticism -- some within his own administration -- on at least two fronts: the contention that the Islamic State was not yet defeated and the risk that Turkey would attack Kurdish forces allied with the U.S.

Trump lent support to the creation of a safe zone in a Jan. 13 tweet, although he also threatened to “devastate Turkey economically” if Turkish troops attacked Kurds in Syria.

Turkey is conducting “low-level foreign policy” with Syria, Erdogan said. “Intelligence organizations aren’t supposed to do the same thing that leaders do,” he said, implying contacts with Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Turkey broke off ties with the government in Damascus soon after the Syrian war broke out, and Erdogan has repeatedly called for Assad to give up power. Putin suggested in January that Turkey reassess its relationship with Syria, in line with a security agreement the two nations signed in 1998.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.