Erdogan: Turkey Has No Choice but Go Its Own Way on Syria 'Safe Zone'

Ankara and NATO ally Washington have agreed to establish a zone along 480 km of the Turkish border ■ Turkey has warned of unilateral military action if efforts do not meet its expectations, and it set an end-September deadline

American soldiers walk together during a joint U.S.-Turkey patrol, near Tel Abyad, Syria September 8, 2019
\ Rodi Said/ REUTERS

Turkey has not seen the developments it desires in efforts with the United States to form a "safe zone" in northeastern Syria and has no choice but to go its own path, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Ankara and NATO ally Washington have agreed to establish a zone along 480 km (300 miles) of the Turkish border that Turkey wants to reach 30 km inside Syria. Turkey has repeatedly warned of unilateral military action if the efforts do not meet its expectations, and it set an end-September deadline.

>> The first step in a 1,000-mile journey to rebuild Syria

Speaking at the parliament's opening ceremony in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey planned to settle 2 million people in the planned "safe zone," which he said would stretch east from the Euphrates river in Syria to the Iraqi border.

On Saturday, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem demanded an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. and Turkish troops from his country and warned that Syrian government forces had the right to take countermeasures if they refused.

The United States has around 1,000 troops in Syria tackling Islamic State militants. Turkey has also launched military incursions into northern Syria, targeting Islamic State and Kurdish YPG fighters.

"Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and must withdraw immediately," al-Moualem said during an address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York.

"If they refuse, we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law," he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump last year ordered the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria - only to later be convinced to leave some forces behind to ensure that Islamic State militants cannot stage a comeback.

The U.S. intervention in Syria began with air strikes in September 2014 under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.