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US withdrawal from Syria key to Damascus-Ankara normalization: Analyst

By Ali Ghorban Bagheri

The withdrawal of American forces from Syria is the key to full and formal rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara, says a regional affairs analyst, noting that it will ease Turkish concerns over Kurdish influence in Syria and eliminate the excuse for Turkish military presence in the Arab country.

Haitham al-Khazali made these remarks in an interview with the Press Tv website, referring to Turkey’s insistence on maintaining its military presence in Syria despite growing calls for withdrawal.

Turkey and Syria have recently moved towards détente, with their top diplomats meeting in May in the first such high-level contact between the two sides since the eruption of militancy in the Arab country. 

Turkey has been pushing for a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad. But Syria has refused, insisting that Turkey must first withdraw its forces.

Khazali said Turkey insists on remaining in northern Syria as its main objective there is to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state that connects northern Iraq to northern Syria and the Mediterranean.

The Iraq-based analyst said Ankara might also be motivated to take control of Mosul and Aleppo, and potentially Sinjar, which some Turkish nationalists have claimed to be part of Turkish territory and allocate a budget for these areas in a symbolic act.

He said Turkey can reap massive economic benefits if it can annex these Iraqi and Syrian regions.

“Turkey's goal in Mosul is to gain access to oil, while it seeks gas with Syria on its northern borders with the Mediterranean,” he told the Press TV website.

The analyst hastened to add that the US withdrawal from Syria will enable the Arab country to reassert control over Kurdish-held regions, easing Turkish concerns over the possibility of a Kurdish state.

“The conflict between Ankara and Damascus may end if US forces withdraw from Syria and stop supporting Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who control the northeast regions of the country,” he said, adding that this will in turn facilitate the ultimate settlement of the crisis in the Arab country.

The analyst said the US supports SDF so it conducts military operations on its behalf in Syria and to steal the Arab country’s vast oil resources, which are smuggled to the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Turkish officials have spoken of the need for nearly four million Syrian refugees in the country to return to their homes in the Arab country.

Erdogan, during his reelection campaign earlier this year, pledged to speed up the repatriation of Syrian refugees.

On how Turkey can settle this problem in the absence of a Syria-Turkey détente, Khazali said Turkey is planning to build houses for Syrians in the northern part of the Arab country and create a 35-kilometer strip there.   

However, he added that Turkey can’t resolve the refugee crisis on its own.

“If no reconciliation takes place between Turkey and Syria or between the Syrian government and some opposing groups in areas under Turkish control, the refugee issue will not be resolved, even if Turkey constructs homes for them.”

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