ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that new U.S. proposals for a safe zone in northern Syria fall short and Turkey was running out of patience as Washington appears to be stalling in efforts to seal an agreement.
U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey held talks in Ankara this week on the zone and other issues, including progress on a roadmap agreed last year for the northern town of Manbij to be cleared of the Kurdish YPG militia.
The militia has been the main U.S. ally on the ground in Syria during Washington’s fight against Islamic State.
However, Turkey has been infuriated by U.S. support for the YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation, and has repeatedly demanded that Washington cut its ties.
Following the U.S. decision to withdraw from northern Syria, the NATO allies agreed to create the safe zone, which Turkey says should be controlled by its forces and also cleared of the YPG.
But at a news conference in Ankara on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said that the two countries had failed to agree on how deep the safe zone would be, who would control it and whether the YPG would be completely removed from the area.
“We got the impression that they want to enter a stalling process here as in Manbij,” Cavusoglu said. “We need to reach an agreement regarding the safe zone as soon as possible because we have no patience left.”
Cavusoglu also said that U.S. military officials meeting with a YPG leader on Monday - the same day as Jeffrey’s talks at the Foreign Ministry - indicated Washington was not sincere.
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said in a statement later on Wednesday that the two sides were committed to accelerated and concrete progress on the Manbij roadmap, adding that Jeffrey had “forthright, positive, and productive” talks during his visit.
“There was an overall discussion on Syria and specifically for the northeast, both sides committed to accelerated and concrete progress on the Manbij roadmap, and discussed detailed proposals to enhance Turkey’s security along the Turkish border in northeast Syria,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
Earlier this year, President Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish military would launch a military offensive into northern Syria to clear the region of YPG militants, in a move that would have marked Turkey’s third cross-border operation in as many years.
However, the operation was later put on hold after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. soldiers from the region. Turkey has since said that Washington has stalled progress on the Manbij roadmap and warned that it would mount its offensive if necessary.
On Monday, Cavusoglu said that if the safe zone in northern Syria was not established, and threats against Turkey continued, Ankara would launch its military operation east of the Euphrates river.
His comments came after Turkey’s army made reinforcements to its troops along the border with Syria in recent weeks, with the defence minister and other generals visiting military posts in the area for inspections.
On Wednesday, Cavusoglu repeated that there was no progress on the Manbij roadmap and reiterated that Turkey had “run out of patience” and would launch its cross-border operation unless an agreement on the safe zone could be reached.
“We had a military operation (on the agenda) before, but we halted it over Trump’s request,” Cavusoglu said, adding that an agreement on the safe zone needed to be reached. “Otherwise, we will do what is necessary ourselves and we are determined.”
Ankara is also working with Russia and Iran, allies of the Syrian government, to establish a constitutional committee - a long-awaited step in stalled effort to resolve the country’s civil war.
Asked about the details of a recent phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Cavusoglu said the establishment of the constitutional committee could be announced in the coming days.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans, Peter Graff and Alison Williams