Turkey says has capacity to create 'safe zone' in Syria alone

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu talks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey January14, 2019. Cem Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has the capacity to create a “safe zone” in Syria on its own but will not exclude the United States, Russia or others if they want to cooperate, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

After U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said he and Trump had discussed Turkey setting up a 20-mile-deep safe zone in Syria along the border.

Cavusoglu told broadcaster A Haber that nothing was yet certain about the planned safe zone, but that Ankara and Washington’s views were in line, aside from a couple of points.

“We could establish a safe zone on our own but we will not exclude the U.S., Russia or others if they would like to cooperate,” Cavusoglu said.

Speaking after Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said Ankara and Moscow were “on the same page” regarding a Syrian political solution aside from the issue of whether President Bashar al-Assad should stay in office. Moscow backs Assad while Ankara wants him gone.

Cavusoglu said Turkey was in indirect contact with the Syrian government, but did not elaborate.

Cavusoglu also said Turkey and the United States had started discussing who will be in the administration of Manbij, a Syrian town currently controlled by a militia allied to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Turkey regards the Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist group and Erdogan said on Monday Turkey would not allow the secure zone that Ankara is considering setting up to become a base for militants.

Cavusoglu said the U.S. special representative for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, will visit Ankara on Thursday and hold talks with Turkish officials.

Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones