US deep state hindering Trump's Syria plans, Erdoğan says

DAILY SABAH WITH AGENCIES
ANKARA
Published 08.03.2019 00:59

The bureaucratic establishment of the U.S. has been hampering Donald Trump's firm stance on Syrian policy, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday.

He added that this situation concerns Turkey as well. "There is an American establishment, which we can call the U.S. deep state. They are trying to block [the Syrian] process. Our problems will continue if the U.S. will not put an end to its ties with the YPG [People's Protection Units] terrorist group," he said in a TV interview.

In December, Trump announced plans to withdraw all 2,000 American troops from the war-torn country, saying the U.S.-led coalition had succeeded in defeating Daesh. Last month, however, the Trump administration backtracked after heavy pressure from some U.S. officials, saying some 200-400 troops would remain in Syria as part of a peacekeeping effort.

Some top U.S. military commanders, specifically those in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), have a close relationship with top YPG terrorists on the ground. They are trying to water down the withdrawal process, asserting that the fight against Daesh is not over and the protection of their allies, including the YPG, should be a priority.

Recalling that he had first proposed establishing a safe zone to former U.S. President Barack Obama, Erdoğan said the safe zone must be controlled by Turkey and no other country would be allowed to share control.

Since 2012, Turkey has suggested that a 30- to 40-kilometer safe zone should be established in northern Syria. However, the plan did not come to fruition at the time due to the indifference of Ankara's partners. In January, however, Trump proposed the establishment of a 32-kilometer wide safe zone in Syria's eastern Euphrates region. Since then, officials from the two countries have been discussing the details of such a zone.

Erdoğan also warned the U.S. about the weapons they had given to the PKK-affiliated YPG terrorists in Syria, saying the U.S. statement that they had the serial numbers of these weapons was not a solution.

He stressed that Turkey faced the same problem in Iraq and the weapons had been left to the PKK terror group. "If the U.S. is to take weapons out of Syria, they can, as they are their own property. However, if they won't, give them to Turkey. If it is needed, we can sit at the negotiations table and buy them. They must not give these weapons to the terrorists," he said, referring to the YPG.

Ankara has been infuriated by U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG, under the pretext of fighting Daesh. The U.S. provided military training and supplied truckloads of weapons to the YPG, disregarding warnings from Ankara that the YPG is organically linked to the PKK and that partnering with one terrorist group to fight another was not acceptable.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK, which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people in its 30-year terror campaign against Turkey.

Turkish officials previously pledged to launch an operation east of the Euphrates and other areas under YPG rule. However, following Washington's announcement of its decision to withdraw from the country, the operation was put on hold.

Speaking on a possible offensive by Turkey, Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey will not allow any activities east of the Euphrates that may pose a security threat to the country. "If the threat continues, we may suddenly launch the operation. We will do it in Manbij too," he told Anadolu Agency (AA) yesterday.

Meanwhile, speaking on the latest developments in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that the Astana format was created with Turkey and Iran to find ways out of the Syrian crisis, including resolving Ankara's security concerns and leading to a full restoration of Syria's sovereignty.

"Given the multiplicity of factors that affect the Syrian crisis, given the many external players who have certain interests in this situation, of course, this process will not be fast. But we have no doubt that we should move in this direction, and our Turkish friends share this approach," Lavrov told a news conference after a meeting with his Emirati counterpart in the UAE's capital Abu Dhabi.

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