Turkey, U.S. agree to form joint operation centre for Syria safe zone

FILE PHOTO: Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar (L) and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Tod Wolters, speak at a NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts/File Photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey and the United States said they agreed on Wednesday to establish a joint operation centre in Turkey to coordinate and manage a planned safe zone in northern Syria.

After three days of talks in Ankara, the two countries said the safe zone on Syria’s northeast border with Turkey should be a “peace corridor,” and that every effort would be made so that Syrians displaced by war can return to their country.

The agreement was announced in separate statements issued by Turkey’s Defence Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

Neither statement said whether they had overcome two main points that had divided Washington and Ankara: how far the proposed safe zone should extend into Syria, and who would command forces patrolling the area.

Turkey’s lira strengthened after the announcement, which followed warnings from Turkey that it could launch unilateral military action in northern Syria if Ankara and Washington failed to reach agreement on the safe zone. The lira stood at 5.478 at 1413 GMT, up nearly 1% on the day.

Turkey and the United States, allies in NATO, have been deadlocked for months over the scope and command of the zone, given the presence of Kurdish YPG militia that fought alongside U.S. forces against Islamic State militants, but which Ankara sees as terrorists who pose a grave security threat.

Ankara has accused Washington of stalling on setting up the safe zone, which would extend hundreds of kilometres along Syria’s northeastern border, and has demanded that the United States sever its ties with the YPG.

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