No agreement with US until settlement of Syria no-fly zone issue: President Erdoğan

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Ankara and Washington are “on the same page” about equipping and training moderate Syrian rebels, but differences remain over the no-fly zone and safe zone issues, thwarting the striking of a deal.

“No commitment has yet been given by the coalition powers, particularly about a no-fly zone and safe zone,” Erdoğan told reporters at a joint news conference with visiting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite late on Dec. 8.

“This is an issue being negotiated between our delegations. There seems to be a consensus in the equip-train [program planned for Syrian rebels], but unfortunately there has been no consensus over the two other issues yet,” said Erdoğan.

Erdoğan also said all details of the train-equip program planned to be co-executed by Turkey and the U.S. have been determined, but added “it is impossible to take a healthy step” without reaching a full consensus.

“Where the train-equip is or will be held has been determined between the parties and the program will start at these set locations when a full consensus is reached,” he said.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) members, including Syrian Turkmens, are reportedly planned to be trained at the Hirfanlı gendarmerie training center in the Central Anatolian province of Kırşehir, as the U.S. and Turkey agree on the necessity of supporting moderate Syrian rebels to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Syrian regime forces in the country.

However, the issue of the no-fly zone remains a source of disagreement, obstructing taking immediate action over the issue as both parties continue to discuss potential solutions.

Ankara has long sought a no-fly zone or secure area along the Syrian-Turkish border, but Washington has been expressing reluctance for such plans, insisting that a buffer zone is not deemed the best way to relieve the humanitarian crisis in northern Syria.

Turkey insists that a protected zone along the Syrian-Turkish border would help safeguard opposition fighters being trained in Syria, as well as stop a feared flow of refugees to Turkey in the case of a major defeat of opposition forces in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.

In his remarks on Dec. 8, Erdoğan reiterated the Turkish government’s insistence on a safe zone, suggesting “a ground operation of moderate Syrian rebels, supported by airstrikes and a buffer along the border” as the key to successfully stemming the potential flow of Syrian refugees to Turkey.

“It is not possible to have results with just an air operation. There should be a ground operation. The ground operation should be supported with an air operation and the FSA is already prepared to take part in this ground operation if they can get the necessary training and equipment,” Erdoğan stated.

“If this support is given, an air-supported ground operation, the establishment of a safe zone would hamper immigration,” he added.

The president highlighted the importance of the issue for Turkey, saying it has been facing a serious immigration flow as the number of refugees in the country has reached 1.6 million and their needs, education and healthcare have been financed by the Turkish government.

Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister said the U.S.-led program for training and arming the moderate Syrian opposition to fight against ISIL militants would only be successful with the declaration of safe havens and no fly zones in Syria.

“The target of the train-equip program is to maintain stability in Syria and Iraq by eliminating terror, enabling a political transition. Those who are trained and equipped could only be successful in achieving these goals with some supportive measures, and a no-fly zone is one of our most important proposals on this issue,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said on Dec. 9, speaking at a joint press conference with Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili.

Çavuşoğlu said Turkey and the U.S. have converged on the talks for training and equipping program of Syrian rebels in Turkey, but have yet to reach a final agreement on the no-fly zone and safe haven.