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Turkey, U.S. Likely to Reach Deal on Syria’s Manbij #TurkeyUS

Turkey, U.S. Likely to Reach Deal on Syria’s Manbij <a class="hashtagger" href="">#TurkeyUS</a>

Turkey may well accept a U.S. proposal of jointly controlling Syria‘s Manbij as the two NATO allies, on bad terms due to an array of issues including Washington’s endorsement of Syrian Kurdish militia, are set to meet to get over their differences on Syria, Turkish analysts said.

“Ankara is likely to accept the American proposal on Manbij,” Faruk Logoglu, a former senior diplomat, told Xinhua.

Turkey, now undertaking a military operation against Kurdish militia-held Afrin in northwestern Syria, has long threatened to expand it to target Manbij not far away, which is controlled by U.S.-backed forces dominated by the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“Because that would not only avert the need for another Turkish military operation, but would also possibly pave the way for the much-needed improvement in bilateral relations with Washington,” said Logoglu.

Washington’s training and arming of the YPG has been an irritant in its ties with Ankara, as the latter sees the Kurdish militants as terrorists associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, outlawed by Ankara for fighting against the Turkish state.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told local media last week that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had proposed to him to jointly maintain security in Manbij after getting the YPG out of it.

Erdogan also said that Ankara would accept such a proposal as long as it would mean resettling Manbij’s original Arab population in the town.

Turkey accuses the YPG of having ethnically cleansed Arabs and other minorities from the areas it captured during the Syrian civil war in order to establish a Kurdish entity in northern Syria, a scenario seen by Ankara as a national security threat.

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An agreement on Manbij with Washington would neatly fit the supposed interests of both sides, Logoglu said, noting the YPG fighters would then be moved to the east of the Euphrates River while Ankara would populate Manbij with Sunni Arabs expected to sympathize with Turkey.

The creation of a Sunni-majority safe haven near its border would appease Ankara’s national security concerns, added Logoglu.

The Turkish military and its ally Free Syrian Army, which is composed of Sunni Arabs and Turkmens of Syrian origin, currently control an area of 2,000 square kilometers bordering Manbij in northern Syria.

On Jan. 20, Turkish troops and the allied Syrian rebels launched an offensive to drive the YPG out of the Afrin district, prompting Washington to call for restraint.

Turkish and U.S. technical delegations are scheduled to meet in Washington on Thursday and Friday to discuss Syria as part of efforts to normalize ties.

Entry of Turkish troops into Manbij following the Afrin operation would give Turkey’s ruling party the chance to exploit it at home as a victory against the United States, Ilhan Uzgel, an international relations analyst, told Xinhua.

Turkey is scheduled to hold local, parliamentary and presidential elections next year, but there is persistent talk of early polls in the country.

Uzgel, who taught at Ankara University until 2017, felt that Ankara may have agreed with Tillerson not to take action against the YPG on the eastern side of the Euphrates if the United States hands over Manbij to Turkey.

The YPG has to leave Manbij and withdraw to the east of the Euphrates first, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a joint press conference with Tillerson last month.

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Even after talks with Tillerson, Turkish officials have kept saying that the YPG on the eastern part of the Euphrates would also be targeted by the Turkish army.

In Logoglu’s view, a Turkish-U.S. deal on Manbij would not necessarily disrupt Ankara’s cooperation with Russia and Iran provided that Turkey concludes its Afrin operation in a timely manner.

Since the summer of 2016, Ankara has been acting more in cooperation with Russia in Syria rather than with the U.S., and it joined efforts last year with Russia and Iran, staunch supporters of the Syrian government, to bring peace back to Syria.

Despite efforts to get closer to Moscow and Tehran, Turkey would not like to disrupt its ties with the U.S., Uzgel argued, saying Ankara is strongly tied, in some cases dependent on, to the West in terms of economy, finance and security.

“Russia and Iran are well aware of that,” he said. “They try to keep Turkey away from Washington as much as possible.”

Originally published in

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