Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that an expanded “safe zone” in northern Syria could include as many as 3 million people if it stretches for 50 miles as far as the city of Raqqa.
Addressing world leaders in New York at the 74th session of the UNGA, he also urged the international actors to speed up the resettlement of Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
Unlike recent speeches that Erdogan has made in Turkey, he did not repeat his threats about unilaterally conducting a military offensive into Syria or allowing a flood of refugees into Europe by opening Turkey’s borders.
Erdogan has reiterated several times previously that Turkey would act unilaterally to establish the safe zone if the joint works with the US did not progress by the end of September and he also threatened to open the country’s borders, allowing a flood of refugees into Europe if Turkey did not receive adequate international support for setting up the zone.
Erdogan said he was hoping to establish a corridor with an initial depth of 30km (18 miles) and a length of 480km, enabling the settlement of up to 2 million Syrians in the region.
“If we can extend the depth of this safe zone to Raqqa – Deir ez-Zor line, we can increase the number of Syrians, who will return from [Turkey and] Europe, up to 3 million,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan called for an end to the nearly nine-year-old civil war in Syria, referring to Turkey’s efforts along with Russia and Iran.
Last week, Erdogan met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Syria’s Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria.
Turkey, which hosts what Erdogan says are 3.65 million Syrian refugees, fears the clashes in Idlib will cause a further refugee influx into the country.
Turkey also hopes to clear Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the northeaster region of Syria. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group which has waged a three-decade insurgency in the country.
Washington, however, backs the YPG as its ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), arming the Kurdish militias in the region.
Besides the disagreement over the safe zone, US support for the YPG has been another point of tension between the two NATO allies.
In his speech, Erdogan also touched on the nuclear-related matters, claiming that the “inequality” between states which have nuclear power and those which do not was undermining global balances.
“It is particularly significant that those having nuclear power have been threatening the ones that do not have. This [nuclear] power should either be forbidden for all or permissible for everyone. The world is greater than five,” said Erdogan in reference to the five nations with nuclear weapons.