Turkey has been in talks with the United States to remove the PKK terrorist group and its Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), from northeastern Syria and establish a safe zone where Syrian refugees may be securely resettled. Seeing that U.S. officials were unwilling to keep President Donald Trump's promises to his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey demonstrated its willingness to launch a unilateral incursion - which resulted in negotiations, and an agreement, with Washington. The Turks had seen this film before: in Manbij, the Pentagon successfully resorted to stalling tactics. Hence Turkey's insistence on a clear, rather than open-ended, timeline for implementation. The Turks thus set a 45-day deadline.
During this period, the United States had to take concrete steps toward creating a safe zone, removing terrorists from the area and overseeing the destruction of fortifications, as well as conduct joint patrols with Turkey and set up checkpoints.
The situation in northeastern Syria is different from the Manbij road map in the sense that Washington has, to some degree, complied with the timeline. Joint air and land patrols, and the destruction of some terrorist fortifications, support that view. Yet the Turks are unhappy because the agreement has not been fully implemented: U.S. officials refuse to distance themselves from the PKK/YPG terrorists, and there are signs that the Americans will resort to stalling tactics again.
Seemingly upholding the agreement with Turkey, the United States keeps arming the group. It is no secret that the Turks are frustrated with that development. As a matter of fact, President Erdoğan revealed details of the timeline to the public before flying to the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly's opening session. Two weeks were left to see what Washington intended to do, and Turkey would take unilateral action if necessary, Erdoğan said. The Turks hoped for more clarity following Erdoğan's meeting with Trump in New York — which never took place. The two leaders spoke by phone, agreeing to hold additional talks.
According to sources, the much-anticipated meeting fell through due to the impeachment inquiry into Trump. This unsettling move, they say, led to major disruptions in the U.S. president's schedule. My view is that cancelling the meeting, to some extent, was an attempt to win more time in Syria. Had Erdoğan indeed met Trump in New York, he would have offered Trump a choice between a joint military operation and a unilateral Turkish incursion.
What happens now? The National Security Council's meeting, coupled with Erdoğan's address to the Turkish Parliament, revealed that Turkey's plan remains the same. The Turkish president's most significant remark was as follows: "At this point, we are left with no choice but to go it alone." Over the weekend, Erdoğan built on that statement, declaring that "the time for talks is over." He announced that the operation will be called Peace Spring.
Judging by public statements, Turkey, whose expectations the U.S. has failed to meet, is getting ready to take unilateral steps in the area east of the Euphrates River. At the same time, Turkey wants the European Union to support its plan. In a meeting with the interior ministers of Germany and France last week, the Turkish interior minister stressed that Turkey cannot admit any more refugees and the EU's failure to support the safe zone plan would result in an escalation of the migration crisis in Europe.
A similar statement came from Ömer Çelik, the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) spokesman, who said that Turkey did not care about additional financial contributions from the European Union. "We are at the point of no return," he added.