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U.S.-Turkish Agreement to Liberate Raqqa amid Russian Worries | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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President Erdogan addressed reporters in Ankara on his return from the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on Tuesday AP

Ankara, London- Turkey’s President Recep Tayip Erdogan had revealed on Wednesday a U.S.-Turkish deal concerning the liberation of Raqqa, the capital of ISIS in Syria, and Moscow said it was worried from the Turkish move.

Speaking to reports accompanying him on his return from the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, Erdogan said that U.S. President Barack Obama suggested during a meeting last week, between both parties in China, the possibility of joint military action to control the city of Raqqa.

Erdogan said: “The Turkish Army is ready to participate in any attack on the ISIS stronghold in Syria.”

He told reporters: “Obama wants to do some things together concerning Raqqa in particular.”

Erdogan said any Turkish role would have to be worked out separately. “But at this stage we have to show our presence in the region,” he said. “We do not have the chance to take a backward step. If we take a backward step terror groups like ISIS, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) will settle there.”

Ankara considers the PYD, which is the political wing of the YPG in Syria as a prolongation of the PKK, classified by Turkey as a terrorist organization. The U.S. considers the YPG as its ally in the war against ISIS, and Washington had previously asked Ankara to collaborate with the group in its operations against ISIS. However, Turkey had refused.

Diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Ankara’s readiness to coordinate with the U.S. in an operation to end ISIS control in Raqqa goes back to Turkey’s desire to establish a buffer zone 40 kilometers deep and 98 kilometers long inside its borders with Syria. “The Free Syrian Army forces supported by Turkey, had succeeded to control this area through its Euphrates Shield operation,” the source said.

Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield last month to push ISIS away from the Syrian-Turkish borders.

The diplomatic sources said that Turkey wants to keep the YPG forces away from the upcoming battles against ISIS, and therefore, Ankara is offering Washington that the Free Syrian Army replace these forces.

Military sources hinted on Wednesday that Operation Euphrates Shield might expand in the next coming days to the cities of Manbij and al-Bab.

Meanwhile, Russia said in a statement issued by its Foreign Ministry that it was deeply concerned by the movement of Turkish troops and its backed forces deeper into Syria’s territory.

In this regard, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his U.S. counterpart John Kerry have agreed on holding joint talks on Syria on Friday and Saturday in Geneva, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Meanwhile, the High Negotiations Committee of Syria’s opposition presented in London on Wednesday its own roadmap to a political settlement in Syria. The opposition said the roadmap would start with six months of negotiations based on the Geneva Statement, to be followed by a transitional phase of 18 months during which a transitional administration will be formed without Bashar Assad.