U.S. eyes buffer zone on Syria border to protect YPG
Turkish and U.S. delegations will hold key talks on Jan. 8 in Ankara to discuss a host of issues related to the United States’ decision to withdraw troops from Syria. It will be the first in-person meeting between the two countries’ officials after Trump announced the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria on December 19, after a number of phone calls exchanged between Ankara and Washington. The mood in Washington since then seems to be different about the timing and the scope of this withdrawal. Trump is no longer talking about an immediate process despite first suggesting that he wanted U.S. troops back home no later than 60 days. He now says he never mentioned any timetable for the withdrawal, saying the process will be slow and cover a period of time. Washington has deliberately begun using the words “Kurds” instead of the YPG or even the SDF in a bid to ease concerns expressed by many internal and external critics of the withdrawal decision. However, a heavier blow came from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in an interview with Newsmax said, “The importance of ensuring that the Turks don’t slaughter the Kurds, the protection of religious minorities there in Syria, all of those things are still part of the American mission set.” This characterization by Pompeo is, of course, unacceptable for Ankara and would potentially create new tension between Turkey and the U.S. However, Pompeo’s remarks put bluntly that the U.S. regards any potential military action by the Turkish army into eastern Syria as an offensive aiming at “slaughtering Kurds” and therefore signals tough talks with Turkey next week.