Turkey Vows Unilateral Syria ‘Safe Zone’ If U.S. Talks Fail

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey warned that it would seek to enforce a “safe zone” in northeast Syria on its own if talks with the U.S. on the issue fail.

“We’re working to reach a consensus with the U.S,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told state-run Anadolu Agency on Friday. “If that’s not possible, then we would do it ourselves,” he said, adding that preparations for such a mission are complete.

Turkey wants the zone to keep Kurdish fighters it regards as a terrorist force with designs on Turkish territory away from its border, and is keen to have sole military jurisdiction in the frontier region. But Washington armed the YPG militia in the fight against Islamic State and the Trump administration’s under pressure to protect the Kurds.

The dispute is just the latest between the NATO allies, who are also at loggerheads over Ankara’s decision to buy a Russian missile-defense system. The U.S. has warned that the purchase could imperil Turkey’s chances of buying the next-generation F-35 jet it’s helping to build, and possibly trigger sanctions.

Turkey’s expecting the delivery of Russian S-400 missiles in July and “the system would be installed from October,” Akar said. Blocking the sale of F-35s would be illegal, he said.

Russia, which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most important ally, has so far rebuffed Turkish demands for the northern safe zone, stressing the need for Syrian government forces to have control over all the country’s territory.

The two countries are working together elsewhere in Syria, though. Akar said on Friday that Turkish troops had started patrolling a demilitarized area in Idlib, which is controlled by an al-Qaeda affiliate, as Russian forces secured areas nearby.

The Russian and Turkish defense ministers last month agreed on the need for “decisive” action to tackle militants in Idlib, but Turkey fears a military assault could send a new wave of refugees fleeing into the country, where some 4 million already live.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.