Tehran and the Kremlin are willing to negotiate the future of Afrin, which is currently held by the PKK's Syrian wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), in favor of Ankara if the Turkish government gives the green light to making concessions in other parts of Syria, high-level diplomatic sources told Daily Sabah.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to media outlets, said YPG-held Afrin could be handed over to Turkey, but some concrete steps are expected to be taken by the Turkish government first in other parts of Syria.
There have been some credible reports in the Turkish media recently claiming that the Turkish military was imminent to launch a ground operation in Afrin in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), but the talks at the table are believed to have postponed the Turkish offensive.
Despite Turkish ambitions to liberate the YPG-held town, the negotiations between the three countries are seen as the key to sorting out the Afrin issue.
The sources said, "Russia and Iran do not favor a Turkish military operation in Afrin."
However, the Russian-Iranian duo is not ready to let Afrin be taken over by the Turkish government at the table in exchange for nothing. The sources claimed that there was, in fact, a way for Ankara to persuade Russia and Iran to lift its protection shield on the YPG.
"If Turkey can achieve to convince the opposition to withdraw from some areas in the south, Iran and Russia may keep silent over the handover of Afrin," they said.
A Turkish delegation of representatives from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Foreign Ministry is expected to hold talks in Tehran next week with Iranian and Russian authorities regarding the Afrin matter, the sources said.
Murat Yeşiltaş, a security studies expert, recently said even though the Kremlin does not see eye to eye with Ankara on the YPG issue, Russian President Vladimir Putin would be open to Turkish offers.
Contending that "Russia will not make a fuss about Turkey's operation in Afrin if the operation does not threaten its own military bases," Yeşiltaş said a deal had to be made with the Russian side over the issue first.
The Turkish military has already been shelling YPG positions near Afrin. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said over the weekend that Ankara would not hesitate to intervene if terrorist threats were to be posed from there.
Speaking after the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, President Erdoğan said Turkey would not let a so-called Kurdish state in northern Syria.
"We will not allow a YPG threat. Afrin is a threat for us, we will give the necessary response," the president asserted.
It continues to remain a mystery whether a concrete attack from Afrin on the Turkish territory would end up as a Turkish ground operation on the town despite the ongoing talks with Tehran and the Kremlin.
While Turkey negotiates with Russia and Iran over the future of the YPG-held town, the United States has abstained from openly bashing the Turkish plans, but it has conveyed its concerns regarding the issue.
The United States ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, said on Friday that Turkey has the right to defend itself and that Washington does not welcome any organization launching terrorist attacks on Turkish territory from Syria. Bass said that Washington knows Turkey "has a right to defend itself" in the face of terrorist attacks.
However, Bass said the priority for all militaries in Syria should be taking out Daesh before anything. The U.S. envoy underlined that Washington prioritizes retaking Daesh-held Raqqa in cooperation with the YPG.
"Our current priority in Syria is first and foremost continuous to be defeating Daesh," Bass said, adding that the Trump administration wants to make sure Daesh "does not pose a threat to the U.S., Turkey, and the rest of the world any longer."
Even though the U.S. has the YPG card on the ground in Syria, Turkey's cooperation with Iran and Russia at the table has sidelined Washington from time to time. Turkey, Iran and Russia previously agreed on the decision of the establishment of de-escalation zones in Idlib, parts of Aleppo, Latakia and Homs, Damascus/Eastern Ghouta and parts of Daraa and Quneitra.
Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said last month that the Turkish and Russian military may jointly deploy troops in Idlib to ensure security and order in the area.
Furthermore, Turkey and Russia led the way in ensuring a nationwide cease-fire in Syria before New Year's Eve and agreed on the evacuation of Aleppo. After that, along with Iran, the three countries took the initiative to bring together the Bashar Assad regime and opposition in Astana to sustain a cease-fire agreement and to negotiate a political transition in the country.
Russian President Putin seems to be appreciative toward the Turkish efforts in Syria. Speaking at a press conference after the G20 summit over the weekend, Putin said the Kremlin would focus on the de-escalation zones in Syria.
"We cannot make it without Turkey," he noted.
'De-escalation agreement' for southwestern Syria goes into effect
Meanwhile, The United States, Russia and Jordan reached a cease-fire and "de-escalation agreement" for southwestern Syria on Friday. The cease-fire, which was due to start at noon Damascus time (9:00 GMT) on Sunday, was announced after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the area covered by the cease-fire affects Jordan's security and is a "very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield."
"I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas," Tillerson said.
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