Turkey thanks Merkel for support of safe zones in Syria
ANKARA – Hurriyet – 26 Febr 2016 – Turkey’s foreign minister has thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her support of the Turkish government’s demand to establish safe zones inside Syria, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed wariness over a safe zone in Syria, saying that up to 30,000 troops would be needed to maintain the area. “Merkel’s support is important. We thank her very much,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told the Anadolu Agency on Feb 25.
Turkey has long proposed the establishment of safe zones inside Syria so that Syrians leaving their homes could be sheltered in their own country but has failed to garner sufficient support from the international community, particularly the United States. Turkey has reiterated its proposal to secure a 10-kilometer-deep strip of the Syrian border as a safe zone, as intensified clashes between Russia-backed regime forces and opposition forces pushed a new refugee influx into Turkey.
Given the huge refugee problem threatening the EU’s unity, Merkel expressed her support for Turkey’s proposal to keep fleeing Syrians inside Syria. “This proposal of Turkey was not seriously discussed when we first brought it to the agenda. But even with delay, Turkey’s proposal is now understood,” he said. “It’s important that Merkel endorses this idea but this should be taken into account in a serious way. If you support this idea with the understanding of ‘How can we stop refugees?’ after this problem knocks your door, then this would be a provisional support. We can only healthily discuss and take steps about the proposals Turkey objectively brought to the table with the understanding of ‘What can we do altogether for Syrians?” he said.
Safe zones will not only be useful for stemming the refugee flow but also for providing humanitarian aid to Syrians who have been displaced inside Syria, Çavuşoğlu said. “How many cities could we have built [inside safe zones] with the $10 billion we have spent so far?” he asked.Meanwhile, Kerry said that up to 30,000 troops will be needed in Syria to protect any safe zone in the northern part of the country. Citing Pentagon estimates, Kerry told a U.S. Senate committee that protecting a safe zone was more complicated than many anticipated. “All this talk about safe zones does not go through the process of what it really means,” Kerry was quoted as saying by Anadolu Agency late Feb. 24. “Our Pentagon estimates that to have a true safe zone in the north of the country you may have upwards of 15,000 to 30,000 troops.”
“Now are we ready to authorize that? Are we ready to put them on the ground?” he asked.
He said personnel and equipment would be needed to protect against airstrikes as well as ground attacks.
EU should swiftly transfer 3 billion euros
Recalling that Turkey and EU countries will come together at a summit on March 7 to review the implementation of the Nov. 29, 2015, Action Plan over the refugee issue, Çavuşoğlu stressed, “Turkey has fulfilled and is fulfilling its liabilities on visa liberalization and other issues. Our reform process continues. We are signing international conventions that we have not signed in the past and making legal arrangements. The EU has to fulfill its own liabilities with the approach of pacta sund servanda.”
The Action Plan stipulates the transfer of 3 billion euros to Turkey to meet the needs of Syrians, the minister stated, calling on Brussels to accomplish all necessary procedures immediately. “We are sharing our plans and projects with the EU. Education, health and employment are important areas. There are 700,000 Syrians of school age. We provide education to 300,000 of them. 270,000 Syrians are in the camps. There are still Syrians who want to come. We need to make camps for the additional 10,000 Syrians who came in recently. We should construct temporary houses. This money should be fully spent for humanitarian issues,” he said.