US and Turkey agree to establish joint centre to work on Syria safe zone

Experts say the agreement delays any Turkish incursion into Syria and buys both sides more time

US soldiers in a market in the town of Ras al-Ain in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on July 28, 2019. / AFP / -
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The US and Turkey on Wednesday agreed to establish a joint operations centre as soon as possible to co-ordinate a safe zone in Syria's north-east.

The breakthrough came after two days of talks clouded by warnings and threats of a Turkish incursion into Syria to drive Kurdish troops away from its border.

Washington on Tuesday issued a blunt warning to Ankara against moving into the area, which would have put the two countries on a collision path.

The Kurdish YPG troops were America's most effective allies in its battle against ISIS in Syria.

In the document, issued in Turkish and English, three points of agreement were announced, which included setting up the operations centre. Last month, the US and Turkey formed a working group on the issue.

The two sides agreed on “the rapid implementation of initial measures to address Turkey’s security concerns" and "to set up a joint operations centre in Turkey as soon as possible to co-ordinate and manage the establishment of the safe zone".

The third point was “that the safe zone shall become a peace corridor, and every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country".

They did not detail the size of the zone, one of the issues on which Ankara and Washington have disagreed over the past five years.

Turkey has insisted on a 32-kilometre deep zone, while the US has reportedly proposed 12km.

There was also no mention in the statement of how security would be supervised in the proposed area.

US officials had objected to Turkey alone overseeing the zone but failed to convince European and international monitors to take on the mission.

"Details in the statement are vague and deep disagreement undoubtedly remains," said Nicholas Danforth, of the German Marshall Fund.

But Mr Danforth said that the release of the statement was a positive development and that the US might have succeeded in halting a Turkish military operation for the moment.

“The vagueness of the official statement suggests both sides have agreed to kick the can down the road a little bit further for now,” he said.

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in the US, tweeted that the statement showed failure by the US and Turkey to compromise “over depth, control and rules of engagement".

Those issues will be determined by the two negotiating teams in future talks.