Syrian government says Turkey blocked new Astana agreement
Raushan Nurshayeva, Reuters, Jul 5 2017

ASTANA – Turkey has blocked the adoption of documents aimed at implementing the de-escalation zones plan in Syria, Syrian government lead negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari said on Wednesday. Because of Ankara’s position the talks have achieved “very modest” results, he told reporters.

Russia, Turkey, Iran fail to agree on Syria de-escalation zones
Raushan Nurshayeva, Reuters, Jul 5 2017

Russia, Turkey and Iran failed in talks on Wednesday to finalize an agreement on creating four deescalation zones in Syria after Ankara raised objections, diplomats said. The failure is a setback for Moscow, the main architect of the plan, as it seeks to take the lead in global efforts to settle the Syrian civil war. Senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said:

During these consultations, the Turkish side said it needed more time in order … to make an appropriate decision.

Bashar al-Ja’afari, the lead negotiator from the Damascus government, said more directly:

The Turkish delegation objected to the adoption of any documents related to the implementation of mechanisms of the agreement on the deescalation zones.

Russia, Turkey and Iran have set up a working group to reconcile their positions before the next Astana meeting set for the final week of August. Lavrentyev said details related to the southern deescalation zone needed to be agreed with Pindostan and Jordan. Turkish delegates made no statement to the media after the talks. Rex Tillerson raised the possibility on Wednesday of several joint steps with Moscow to promote stability in Syria and urged all parties fighting Daesh in the country to avoid conflict with one another. Tillerson said in a statement which did not directly address the Astana talks:

Pindostan is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on-the-ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance. If our two countries work together to establish stability on the ground, it will lay a foundation for progress on the settlement of Syria’s political future.

The Kazakh talks, which began in January, come at a time when Turkey and Russia each want to disentangle themselves from the fighting. That has led them into an ad hoc alliance, although they still trade barbs. Since the May agreement was announced, the rebel-held stronghold of Idlib province in the northwest of Syria has been mostly calm. But fighting has continued on other frontlines in western Syria, including Eastern Ghouta of Damascus and the southwestern city of Deraa, where government forces and their allies are trying to crush remaining pockets of rebellion. If the agreement on deescalation zones is finalised, Russia, Iran and Turkey will be able to deploy forces such as military police on the borders of those zones within weeks, Lavrentyev has said.

Turkey says it’s not ‘declaring war’ in Syria, but ready to respond
Orhan Coskun, Ercan Gurces, Reuters, Jul 5 2017

Turkish military preparations in north-west Syria are legitimate measures against a threat from Kurdish forces in the Afrin region, and Turkey will retaliate against any hostile move, Deputy PM Kurtulmus told Reuters on Wednesday. Kurtulmus was responding to the head of the YPG, who told Reuters that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of north-western Syria were a declaration of war which could trigger clashes within days. The YPG controls a pocket of territory in Afrin, about 200 km west of Raqqa. Tensions between Turkish forces and the YPG have been mounting in the Afrin region in recent weeks. Kurtulmus said in an interview:

This is not a declaration of war. We are making preparations against potential threats. It’s … a legitimate measure so that we can protect our independence. We cannot remain silent against those sending missiles from Afrin.

Turkey’s military, which launched an incursion last August into part of northern Syria which lies between Afrin and a larger Kurdish-controlled area further east, has said that it has returned fire against members of YPG near Afrin several times in the last few weeks. Kurtulmus said:

Their primary goal is a threat to Turkey, and if Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it, it will retaliate in kind. This isn’t a fantasy for us … It is an indispensable approach to protect Turkey’s border security.

The Turkish defense ministry said last month the Pentagon had sought to give assurances that Washington would retrieve weapons provided to the YPG after Daesh were defeated. Turkey says that is not credible. Kurtulmus said:

There has never been an incident where a group in the Middle East has been armed, and they returned the weapons. They have formed more than a terrorist organization there, they formed a small-scale army.

He also warned the YPG not to try to drive out Arab or Turkmen residents from the town of Tel Rifaat, which is close to Afrin and controlled by YPG and SDF, saying:

The majority of Tel Rifaat is Arab and Turkmen, and if the PYD says it will capitalize on that, then this means ethnic cleansing, and this will not benefit Syria.

Erdogan says loyal to Qatar, Arab states’ demands unacceptable
John Irish, Reuters, Jul 5 2017

PARIS – Pres Erdogan on Wednesday reaffirmed Turkey’s support for Qatar in its dispute with four other Arab states, saying their demands against the tiny Gulf nation were unacceptable. At a meeting in Cairo on Wednesday the four nations’ foreign ministers refrained from slapping further sanctions on Qatar but voiced disappointment at Doha’s failure to comply with their 13 demands after the expiry of the deadline. Erdogan said in an interview with France 24 television:

When it comes to this list of 13 items … it’s not acceptable under any circumstances. Some of the terms in it are tantamount to stripping Qatar of its statehood.

Among their demands is for Qatar to end an accord under which Turkey maintains a military base in the Gulf state. He said through an interpreter:

We remain loyal to our agreement with Qatar. If it requests us to leave, we will not stay where we are not wanted. There has been no such request.

Turkey has sent 100 cargo planes with supplies since its neighbors cut air and sea links. It has also rushed through legislation to send more troops to the military base in Doha. Two contingents of Turkish troops with columns of armored vehicles have arrived since the crisis erupted on Jun 5. Erdogan, who was speaking ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg, also took a swipe at Pindostan, saying its arming of “terrorist” Kurdish groups would backfire and that it would be impossible for Faschingstein to recover heavy weapons as it has promised to do so. He also said Ankara was ready to carry out ground operations in northern Syria against Kurdish forces if it felt threatened. The head of the YPG said on Wednesday that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of north-western Syria amounted to a “declaration of war” which could trigger clashes within days. Erdogan said when asked whether Turkey was prepared to intervene against the Kurds:

If there is a threat against us, our troops will conduct any operations with the FSA on the ground.

Elsewhere in Syria, Erdogan said he was optimistic on the implementation of deescalation zones that are under discussion in the Kazakh capital Astana with Russia and Iran. He said he would discuss the next steps with Pres Putin during the G20 summit in Germany. Erdogan added that he hoped the Astana talks would pave the way for political negotiations under UN auspices in Geneva, but said that Pres Assad had no future in the country. Erdogan said:

Of course he has to leave. Those who want Assad to remain are still going after their interests in Syria.

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