Hardly anyone expected Turkey and the United States to reach an agreement. An American delegation had rushed to Ankara when the Turks signaled imminent action against the terrorist organization PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG). No progress was made in the initial round of talks on July 23. Turkey insisted that the safe zone, on which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump shook hands, to be established without delay. The issue came up months ago, when Trump announced his decision to pull out of Syria. The U.S. had since changed its mind, trying to form an international force to enforce the safe zone. Yet contacts with several countries proved fruitless. Turkey, in turn, wanted its troops and the United States to jointly control the safe zone. Washington could not come up with an alternative solution either. After the first, unsuccessful, meeting a second delegation of American military officials arrived in the Turkish capital.
Ankara had already signaled its intention to take unilateral action by designating the proposed safe zone as a "peace corridor" at the National Security Council's most recent meeting.
Hence my emphasis on the surprising nature of the agreement.
Just as everyone expected Turkey to launch an incursion against terrorist groups in Syria, Turkish and American negotiators reached an agreement during the August 5-7 meetings. This meant that the Turks could not act unilaterally either.
So what does the peace corridor agreement involve? Statements by Turkey and the United States have highlighted three key elements.
First, they will immediately take steps designed to address Turkish security concerns. At the heart of Turkey's concerns are terrorists operating along its southern border, carrying American weapons. Sources say that the Turks offered to take back those weapons from terrorist groups in the area. Washington allegedly responded by offering to move all armed elements 15 kilometers away from the border.
The second point is the establishment of a joint operations center in Turkey to administer the safe zone and coordinate their efforts. Turkey wanted to play some role in the safe zone's administration — a demand that the agreement meets.
Finally, Turkey and the U.S. pledged to work together to facilitate the repatriation of Syrian refugees to the peace corridor. Approximately 25% of the four million refugees in Turkey are known to have arrived from the area currently controlled by PKK/YPG elements. As such, the new agreement's implementation will offer Turkey some relief from its humanitarian burden. The same goes for the European Union, which lives under the threat of a new wave of mass migration.
The majority of Turks, however, believe that the U.S. signed the agreement merely to play for time. Their skepticism reflects Washington's past acts of deception. The Turks remember that Turkey and the U.S. has reached a similar agreement on Manbij – an agreement that Washington promptly violated to keep arming terrorists. Just days after the agreement, PKK militants attacked Free Syrian Army (FSA) units around Afrin.
Let us hope that the Americans will keep their promises this time around. Any violation would only encourage PKK/YPG terrorists. The United States, too, will have wasted its final opportunity. After all, Turkey's patience has really run out.