Istanbul (AFP) – A deal with the United States to reduce tensions over the Kurdish-held city of Manbij in Syria is “doable” but requires Washington to clear up confusion in its policy, a top Turkish official said Saturday.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also said a Turkish operation to take the Syrian city of Tal Rifaat was no longer on the agenda after Russian assurances that Kurdish militia were no longer there.
The city of Manbij, held by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia, has become a major headache in relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.
After ousting the YPG from the city of Afrin to the west in a military operation, Erdogan has threatened to press on to Manbij where US forces are stationed, raising the risk of confrontation with the Americans.
Ankara had said an understanding had been reached with former secretary of state Rex Tillerson but this has now been thrown into the air after he was fired by President Donald Trump.
Kalin told foreign reporters in Istanbul that Turkey had proposed moving the YPG out of Manbij east of the Euphrates River and then US and Turkish forces jointly managing security.
“We still believe that this is achievable and this is doable,” he said, urging “concrete steps” from the American side on an issue that was “really straining relations.”
But he said Washington had to clear up confusion in its Syria policy which in the last days saw Trump signal a US pullout from the country before the White House stated it was not yet happening.
“The president of the US says ‘we are going to get out of Syria very soon’ and then others say ‘no we are staying’.”
“It does create a lot of confusion on the ground as well as for us. We would like to see some clarity, for them to decide.”
– ‘Russian assurances’ –
Turkey sees the YPG as a branch of Kurdish rebels who have fought the Turkish army at home for decades. But the YPG has been the main ally of the United States in the fight against jihadists in Syria.
Kalin’s comments came after Erdogan hosted the presidents of Iran and Russia for a summit on Syria on Wednesday in Ankara, in what analysts saw as a sidelining of Washington.
Erdogan had warned that Turkey would seek to seize the town of Tal Rifaat after Afrin. But Kalin indicated this was no longer on the cards after assurances from President Vladimir Putin the YPG were “no longer present there”.
“But we will ensure through our own channels that that is the case… If that’s the case we are okay with that,” he said.