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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Washington's Syria envoy due in Turkey for talks on secure zone

James Jeffrey's visit comes after a meeting between Putin and Erdogan in Moscow

US special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey (R) attends a meeting at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. Reuters 
US special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey (R) attends a meeting at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. Reuters 

James Jeffrey, the United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement, is due in Turkey on Thursday for talks with Turkish officials over the establishment of a so-called “secure zone” in northern Syria.

His visit comes one day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss co-operation between the two countries in Syria.

Turkey intends to set up a 32-kilometre zone that will keep the People's Protection Units militia away from its border.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who announced Mr Jeffrey’s visit in an interview with the A Haber news channel, said Ankara could establish a secure zone on its own.

He said Ankara and Washington's views were in line, aside from a couple of points.

He did not say what the differences where, but tensions between Turkey and the US have simmered over the former's plans to launch an offensive against US-backed forces in the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Mr Cavusoglu on Thursday said Turkey and the US had started discussing who would be in the administration of the city.

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Speaking on relations with Russia, the foreign minister said Moscow and Ankara were on the same page about a political solution to the conflict in Syria, except about whether President Bashar Assad should stay in power.

Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Al Assad's forces.

Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.

After talks in Moscow on Wednesday, Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan vowed to co-ordinate their actions more closely in Syria.

"Co-operation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability," Mr Erdogan said at a joint press conference after three hours of talks.

"With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our co-ordination even more."

"We agreed how we'll co-ordinate our work in the near future," Mr Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries' defence ministers, "effective".

At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Mr Putin addressed Mr Erdogan as "dear friend", and said their countries "work on issues of regional security and actively co-operate on Syria".

Mr Erdogan used the same term for Mr Putin and said "our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region".

Moscow plans to organise a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.

Mr Putin said on Wednesday the next summit would be held "in the near future" in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.

The last meeting between Mr Putin, Mr Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of Idlib province dominating the agenda.

Updated: January 24, 2019 02:17 PM

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