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Tuesday, January 15, 2019, 22:25
Erdogan pledges Syria 'safe zone' as new UN envoy arrives
By Associated Press
Tuesday, January 15, 2019, 22:25 By Associated Press

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leaves after delivering a speech to MPs of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Jan 15, 2019. (BURHAN OZBILICI / AP)

DAMASCUS — Turkey's president said Tuesday that his troops will establish a 32-kilometer-wide "safe zone" in northern Syria, adding that Turkey would seek logistic and financial assistance from the United States and other allies to create the zone.

The announcement by Recep Tayyip Erdogan came as the United Nations' new special envoy for Syria arrived in Damascus, his first visit to the war-torn country since he took over in January.

If the coalition forces and the United States especially, if they give us logistical and financial support with the condition of protecting the people's safety there, we would accomplish such a safe zone. 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President, Turkey

Erdogan told his ruling party legislators in Parliament that the zone would keep "terrorists out," protect civilians and stem the flow of refugees.

Erdogan and President Donald Trump discussed the issue in a telephone call late Monday that apparently aimed to ease tensions after the US president tweeted a threat to Turkey warning of economic harm should Turkey attack US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

Ankara considers the Kurdish forces in Syria terrorists aligned with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey's own borders.

READ MORE: Pompeo confident of US deal with Turkey to protect Kurds

Erdogan said the two leaders reached an "understanding of historical importance."

"If the coalition forces and the United States especially, if they give us logistical and financial support with the condition of protecting the people's safety there, we would accomplish such a safe zone," he said.

Erdogan suggested the zone could be extended farther than 20 miles. "This is an issue that our friends can discuss and assess and which I look positively upon," he said.

In Damascus, Geir Pedersen, the new UN special envoy for Syria, said he hopes to have productive talks with Syrian officials. He spoke briefly to reporters upon his arrival at the capital, before heading to a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.

ALSO READ: Turkey-backed fighters prepare to replace US forces in Syria

State-run media quoted al-Moallem as saying Syria is prepared to cooperate with Pedersen toward reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis, adding that any such settlement must be based on the "eradication of terrorism and ending all illegitimate foreign presence in Syrian territory."

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, right, meets with the United Nations’ new special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, in Damascus, Syria, Jan 15, 2019. (SANA VIA AP)

The veteran Norwegian diplomat took over from Staffan de Mistura, who stepped down for family reasons after four years and four months of peace efforts that led nowhere.

"I hope we will have very substantial and productive talks and look forward to talking to you more after my discussions," Pedersen said. His office tweeted that he is looking forward to productive meetings in Damascus.

Syria has said it will cooperate with Pederson if he avoids the "methods" of his predecessor and commits to Syria's territorial integrity.

Nearly half a million people have been killed in the seven-year civil war in Syria and various UN-led peace efforts and indirect talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva ended in failure.

Most recently, de Mistura was working on setting up a committee meant to draft a new constitution — a key step in ending the country's civil war. He said objections from the Syrian government were holding up the committee's launch. In his farewell UN briefing last month, he said "an extra mile" is needed to form the committee because a list of participants submitted by Russia, Iran and Turkey is unacceptable to the United Nations.

Pedersen has served the UN in various roles including as special coordinator for Lebanon in 2007-2008. He was a member of Norway's team that negotiated the 1993 Oslo accords, which resulted in mutual recognition between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, and was Norway's representative to the Palestinian Authority between 1998 and 2003.

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