By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria said on Saturday it was ready to revive a landmark security deal with Turkey that normalized ties for two decades before the 2011 conflict if Ankara pulled its troops out of the war-torn country and stopped backing rebels.
In a foreign ministry statement, Syria said it was committed to the 1998 Adana accord, which forced Damascus to stop harboring the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.
“Syria remains committed to this accord and all the agreements relating to fighting terror in all its forms by the two countries,” said a foreign ministry statement released on state media.
Damascus, however, said reviving the Adana deal, which Russian President Vladimir Putin raised during his summit meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week, depended on Ankara ending its backing of rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad and pulling its troops out of northwestern Syria.
Turkey has carved a sphere of influence in an opposition-held enclave in northwestern Syria around Idlib province with the help of mainstream Arab rebels who it backs. Its troops monitor a buffer zone in the province under a deal with Russia and Iran.
Western diplomatic sources say the timing of Putin’s proposal to revive the Adana deal signalled a move to counter U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent call to set up a safe zone along the border inside Syria to support the Kurds.
Syria did not mention how it would deal with the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara says is an extension of the PKK.
The YPG has during the conflict established a Kurdish-led authority that runs much of northern and eastern Syria and which governs millions of ethnic Arabs in former Islamic State territory where most of Syria’s oil wealth lies.
The YPG have engaged in dialogue with government officials to safeguard their autonomous region when U.S. troops that back them pull out.
In a speech on Friday, Erdogan, who has long called for the ousting of President Bashar al Assad and whose country hosts millions of Syrians who fled the war, did not disavow the Adana agreement, saying it gave Turkey the right to enter Syrian territory when it faces threats.
Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population, sees Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria as a threat to its national security. It has repeatedly said it would not wait indefinitely to push out the YPG and that only it can establish the safe zone along its borders with Syria.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Jonathan Oatis)