|Date: Jun 5, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Turkey, U.S. endorse road map for Syrian city of Manbij|
|ANKARA/BEIRUT: Turkey and the United States Monday endorsed a road map for the northern Syrian city of Manbij and underlined their mutual commitment to its implementation following a meeting of their foreign ministers in Washington.|
The move, long sought by Turkey, comes at a time of strain in bilateral ties over wider Syria policy and over Washington’s decision in December to move its embassy in Israel to occupied Jerusalem.
Turkey has been infuriated by U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, which it views as a terrorist organization, and has threatened to push its offensive in the Afrin region of northern Syria further east to Manbij, risking confrontation with U.S. troops stationed there. Washington views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against Daesh (ISIS).
At their talks in Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also discussed cooperation in Syria, along with potential steps to improve security in Manbij, they said in a joint statement.
They gave no details regarding the road map or its timetable.
However, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said last week that Turkey and the U.S. had reached a technical agreement on a three-step YPG withdrawal plan in Manbij. The U.S. State Department later denied those reports.
Manbij is a potential flashpoint. The Syrian government, Kurdish militants, Syrian rebel groups, Turkey and the United States all have a military presence in northern Syria.
The U.S. is believed to have about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.
Relations between Ankara and Washington have deteriorated due to a range of factors, including the sentencing in New York in May of a former Turkish state bank executive to 32 months in prison for taking part in an Iran sanctions-busting scheme, a case Turkey has called a political attack.
Turkey has also caused unease in Washington with its decision to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia and drew criticism over its detention of a U.S. Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, on terrorism charges. He has denied the charges.
The statement said Pompeo and Cavusoglu had agreed to hold further meetings to resolve current bilateral issues “in the spirit of allied partnership.”
Separately, a roadside bomb killed an unidentified fighter Monday near a base in northern city of Raqqa used by the U.S.-led coalition battling Daesh the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
But the coalition, which has both French and American soldiers stationed at the base, and the Kurdish-Arab alliance it supports, which includes the YPG, said they had no record of such a blast.
“A bomb by the side of the road exploded as a military vehicle drove by on the road from Ain Issa to the Brigade 93 base” in the northern province of Raqqa, the Observatory said.
In a statement to AFP, the coalition said it was monitoring the situation closely.
“We are aware of open source reports of an explosion near Raqqa, but do not have any reports from our troops on the ground,” it said.
A Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman denied an explosion had taken place.
“There was no explosion near the American base in Ain Issa and we, the Syrian Democratic Forces, deny that our forces or positions were exposed to any attack with explosives,” SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said.
Backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, the SDF have expelled Daesh militants from much of the Syrian territory they overran in 2014.
The Observatory reported Monday that the SDF had made wide advances against the militants in one of the last desert areas the extremist group controls near the border with Iraq.
Daesh has also faced a second offensive from Russia-backed regime troops, but still hold tiny pockets in eastern Syria.
Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies are also active in northern Syria, as well as militants from a former Al-Qaeda affiliate and a myriad other rebel outfits.