ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey and the United States have reached an understanding, but not full agreement, about stabilising the town of Manbij and other areas of Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
Turkey, which on Sunday stormed the northern Syrian town of Afrin after a two-month offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, has repeatedly threatened to push its operations further east to Manbij where U.S. troops are stationed.
Expanding Turkey’s military campaign into the much larger Kurdish-held territory further east, which President Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to do, would risk confrontation between the NATO allies who have been at loggerheads over the U.S. policy in Syria and other issues.
Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, Cavusoglu denied media reports that Ankara and Washington had agreed a deal on the fate of Manbij, 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin.
“We said we reached an understanding, which is mainly that Syria’s Manbij and the east of the Euphrates be stabilised. We said we reached an understanding, not an agreement,” he said.
Ankara was seeking an agreement with Washington over who will secure Manbij after the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation, withdraws from the area. Pulling out only from Manbij would not be enough, Cavusoglu said.
“The YPG will withdraw from these areas, like Manbij for example. We will work together for the security of these areas.
“Manbij is, of course, not enough. First, the YPG will leave and the people of Manbij will govern it. The security of the area will be ensured. We will apply the Manbij model to other areas controlled by the YPG as well,” he said.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state, and has been infuriated by the support Washington has provided the Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The issue caused a crisis between the NATO allies. Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had taken a leading role in recent weeks to resolve the dispute, promising to find a solution for Manbij during a visit to Turkey last month.
However Turkey said U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was removing Tillerson from office may delay a potential deal between Ankara and Washington.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans