Withdrawal of YPG troops from Manbij gives Turkey and U.S. a chance to improve relations


(AP/AFP) ANTALYA/BEIRUT: A roadmap agreed with Washington for the withdrawal of a US-backed Kurdish militia despised by Ankara from a flashpoint Syrian town will help rebuild trust between the two NATO allies, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this week reached a deal on the withdrawal of People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters from the town of Manbij which lies west of the River Euphrates close to the Turkish border.

The YPG, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has received extensive American backing, vowed on Tuesday it would withdraw.

Cavusoglu told AFP in an interview that the move was a key part of rebuilding ties with Washington damaged by a string of rows including Syria and also issues such as American citizens detained in Turkey.

“The US couldn’t keep its promises in the past. But I think they also understood that it is a very critical issue, and this is why we agreed to work,” Cavusoglu told AFP in his home southern region of Antalya where he is campaigning for Turkey’s June 24 elections.

“The implementation of this roadmap will help us actually to rebuild the mutual trust between two allies,” he added.

But he warned that the plan now had to be implemented on the ground. “If not, there will be a lack of trust,” he said. Tensions between Washington and Ankara have so far scotched expectations of a strong alliance emerging between President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cavusoglu expressed skepticism over the vow to withdraw by the YPG, who Turkey accuses of being the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“I’m not sure they are leaving,” said Cavusoglu.

In a related development, the dominant US-backed Syrian Kurdish party that controls large swaths of oil-rich territory in northeastern Syria is prepared to hold talks with the Syrian regime over the future of the area, a senior Kurdish official said Wednesday.

The proposition came a day after Turkey and the US agreed on the “roadmap” to resolve a dispute over the northern Syrian town of Manbij, which is controlled by the US-backed Kurdish fighters, Washington’s main ally in Syria.

He said the aim of the roadmap is to ensure that the YPG leaves Manbij and then have the US and Turkey work together to establish a local security structure and “decide together who is going to govern Manbij.

“This is the aim, so now it is time to implement it,” he said.

He said the assurance of stability in the area would encourage the return home of Syrian refugees, some 3.5 million of whom live in Turkey.

Turkish forces earlier this year ousted the YPG from the Afrin region of northern Syria in a military operation.

But Cavusoglu indicated that he wanted similar agreements with the US to prise the YPG from towns it had seized from Daesh militants with American backing close to the Turkey border.

Turkey has repeatedly accused the YPG of unbalancing the pre-war ethnic balance of towns like the former Daesh de-facto capital of Raqqa which were predominantly Arab.

“Eventually they should also leave from other areas… because Raqqa, for instance, is a 90 percent Arab city,” said Cavusoglu.

Ankara has long opposed the YPG controlling a continuous stretch of territory on its border up to Iraq, fearing the creation of an autonomous region or even independent entity that could embolden Turkey’s own Kurds.

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