Trump's Syria envoy talks with Turkish officials in Ankara amid military threats

Trump's Syria envoy talks with Turkish officials in Ankara amid military threats
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The Trump administration’s envoy for Syria was in the Turkish capital earlier this week for talks aimed at setting up a safe zone in northeast Syria as the NATO ally threatens to launch a military operation into the area.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, “held a series of meetings in Ankara with senior Turkish officials, including Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal,” the U.S. Embassy in Turkey announced Wednesday.

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Jeffrey, along with a U.S. interagency delegation, on Monday met with Turkish counterparts for what was described as a “High Level Working Group meeting on Syria,” the fifth such gathering since last summer.

The group specifically discussed northern Syria, which shares a border with Turkey, and where Syrian Kurds, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are situated to fight ISIS militants.

The United States provides weapons, training and support to the SDF — a group that hopes to eventually carve out an independent state in northeastern Syria — but Turkey views the group as terrorists and has threatened to attack the population.

Turkey on Monday voiced its latest threat against the SDF, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warning that if a planned safe zone is not established, Ankara could be forced to launch a military operation east of the Euphrates River if threats continue against his country.

The nation is particularly frustrated that a deal with the United States to have the SDF withdraw from Manbij has not yet happened, though it has been more than a year since the agreement was made.

The U.S. Embassy statement said in Monday’s talks, “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 discussions were described as “forthright, positive, and productive,” and the two nations will continue talks, “including through military-to-military consultations.”

Tensions remain high between Washington and Ankara after the United States last week officially removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program over its purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.

Since then, the administration has been mulling imposing congressionally mandated sanctions on the country, and Turkey has fired back by considering blocking the United States from using its air base in Incirlik if Washington follows through on such penalties.