U.S. Defense Chief Signals Support for Germany’s Syria Proposal

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. praised an idea floated by Germany’s defense minister for an internationally supervised security zone in northeastern Syria while ruling out any participation by American soldiers.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the proposal by his German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, would be in line with U.S. calls for European countries to contribute more to their own security.

“It’s fine,” Esper told a conference in Brussels on Thursday. “It’s good for those countries who want to step up and help improve security in that part of the world.”

North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers are due to discuss the situation in Syria -- and Kramp-Karrenbauer’s initiative -- at a meeting that starts on Thursday afternoon in the Belgian capital.

Dueling Syria Plans

Esper said he hadn’t read or studied the German plan, which caused controversy in Berlin by irking the country’s junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats. Kramp-Karrenbauer said that an internationally agreed security zone would defuse the fighting in northern Syria and allow the focus to return to countering Islamic State.

It’s unclear how the plan would overlap with Turkey’s proposed Syrian security zone, designed to be off-limits to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. Turkey struck an agreement with Russia on Tuesday to secure a buffer zone in northern Syria.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who has spoken to Kramp-Karrenbauer about her idea, said that it would involve the United Nations, that any political obstacles are hard to predict and that further deliberations will be needed.

“The way I understand the proposal from Germany -- or from Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer -- is that there is a need for a UN decision,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Thursday as he prepared to host the NATO meeting. “That requires a process in the UN and, of course, it’s not possible today to say whether that will be easy or very difficult. So, I think this is a proposal which has to be discussed more in detail before any decision can be made.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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