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Turkish patience 'wearing thin' as it rejects latest US proposal for Syria safe zone

Turkish foreign minister says 'we have the impression that the US is stalling' as threat of military offensive grows
A column of armoured Turkish military vehicles patrol a demilitarised zone in the northwestern countryside of Hama province (AFP)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu revealed on Wednesday that Ankara rejected Washington's latest proposal for a safe zone in Syria, which was delivered by US special envoy James Jeffrey earlier this week.

“We didn’t find the new proposals satisfactory,” Cavusoglu said in televised remarks. “Our patience is wearing thin and we have the impression that the US is stalling. Otherwise, we are committed to taking some steps alone.”

Jeffrey met Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Monday, and military officials from both countries conducted a technical meeting on the details the next day.

The visit occurred following the emergence of footage showing Turkish deployment of armoured vehicles and elite forces to the southern border, once again raising the possibility of a military operation against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, a US ally.

'Our patience is wearing thin and we have the impression that the US is stalling us'

- Mevlut Cavusoglu, foreign minister

Cavusoglu said a planned operation against the group last year was postponed at the request of US President Donald Trump. The Turkish minister said both countries were unable to reach an agreement that determines who controls the area, or how to expel YPG forces from the zone.

“Military officials are still discussing how to conduct joint patrols or establish bases in the zone. We still want to reach a consensus with the expectation that the US would come up with new ideas,” he said.

Turkey wants a safe zone that has a depth of 30km and is controlled by Turkish armed forces. The United States, according to Turkish officials, would like to have a smaller safe zone controlled by Turkey, the US and other allied forces such as France.

Both countries have been discussing the matter since last year when Trump, after declaring a victory against the Islamic State group, decided to withdraw his forces from Syria.

Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told Jeffrey in a meeting on Wednesday that a safe zone was only possible if it satisfies Turkey’s expectations, according to a statement released by the government.

“Kalin explicitly conveyed Turkey’s security priorities,” the statement added.

Turkish officials also pointed out that the US still hadn't honoured the so-called Manbij roadmap, which suggested last year that YPG elements would be removed from the strategic Syrian border town in 90 days.

“It has been one year and a month. And it isn’t implemented,” Cavusoglu said.