Middle East

U.S. plays down idea of safe zone along Syria-Turkey border

This Oct. 16, 2008 US Department of Defense file photo shows an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft as it flies over the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex during Red Flag - Alaska. AFP PHOTO / DOD/US AIR FORCE/JONATHAN SYNDER

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday played down the idea of creating a buffer zone along the Syria-Turkish border after a media report cited it as a possible concession to Turkey in return for use of bases to launch attacks on Islamic State militants in Syria.

Representatives at the White House, U.S. State Department and the Pentagon all said U.S. officials were considering a range of proposals with Turkey over security near its border with Syria but were not ready to implement a specific plan.

"Right now, we don't believe a buffer zone is the best way to relieve the humanitarian crisis there in northern Syria," Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said talks were going on about many proposals put forward by fellow NATO member Turkey, including on how to secure the Syria border, but there were still differences and no decisions had been made.

Ankara has long sought a no-fly zone or secure area and it has been the subject of frequent high-level talks.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed U.S. and Turkish officials, said an agreement could include a safe zone along part of the Syrian border to protect refugees and certain opposition forces that would also "be off-limits" to aircraft from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

This would be a compromise for Turkey, which has sought a formal "no fly" zone covering a wider swath of northern Syria.

A protected zone along the Turkish-Syrian border would help safeguard opposition fighters being trained in Syria and shield opposition supply lines, the report said.

Asked what might be better than a buffer zone to relieve the humanitarian crisis, Warren said: "Continuing for us to apply pressure on (Islamic State militants) is probably the most effective way to relieve that crisis."

Ankara's plans for establishing safe zones, with air defense as a key component, have received a cool reception from many NATO allies.

Military experts say it would necessitate either agreement from the Syrian government or taking out Damascus' advanced air defense systems.

Such a move would risk dragging Western powers further into Syria's three-year-old war, and anger President Bashar al-Assad's allies, Russia and Iran.

Complicating matters, Assad is using the U.S. air strikes as cover for his own air campaign against Syrian rebels, hitting the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in retaliation for the group's killing of Syrian soldiers.

 

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