ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s deal with the United States to set up a “safe zone” in northeast Syria was a correct step and that Ankara would not let Washington delay the plan, CNN Turk reported on Thursday.
Ankara revealed last weekend that a joint operations center for the proposed zone along Syria’s northeastern border is now fully operational.
Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for the region, where the Kurdish YPG militia form the main part of a U.S.-backed force fighting Islamic State. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group.
“The agreement which we have reached with the USA is a correct step towards establishing a safe zone and removing the YPG from the east of the Euphrates (river),” Erdogan told reporters on his way back from meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Erdogan said Turkey would not accept delays in the plan, comparing it to an earlier deal with Washington to remove YPG fighters from the northern Syrian city of Manbij, which Ankara accused Washington of delaying.
“We will never tolerate a delay like we saw in Manbij. The process must advance rapidly,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by CNN Turk on Thursday.
The safe zone was proposed last year by U.S. President Donald Trump, who had announced plans to withdraw U.S. special forces from northern Syria but later suspended the plan to ensure Washington’s Kurdish allies would be protected.
Erdogan said this week Turkish ground troops would enter the planned safe zone “very soon”, having warned previously that Turkey would mount a cross-border offensive on its own to clear the YPG militia from its border if necessary.
“All the personnel, the armored carriers, all are on the border. That is, we are in a position to do everything at any moment,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
On Tuesday, an official in a YPG-led alliance said that the YPG will pull forces and heavy weapons from a strip along Syria’s border with Turkey under U.S.-Turkish deals.
The YPG withdrew from the Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain border positions in recent days, proving it is serious about ongoing talks, the Kurdish-led authority in north and east Syria said.
U.S. support for the YPG has enraged Turkey, which views the militia as a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish insurgents inside the country.
The two countries have also fallen out over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, prompting Washington to begin removing Turkey from its program for manufacturing F-35 jets, which Turkey also planned to buy.
Erdogan visited an aviation fair with Putin during his visit to Moscow. Asked whether Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter jet and Su-35 aircraft could be among alternatives to the F-35s, Erdogan said: “Why not? We didn’t come here for nothing.”
The RIA news agency cited a Russian official as saying on Wednesday that the two countries are discussing the possibility of deliveries of the two aircraft to Turkey.
Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall