Fears of Turkey abandoning its NATO membership and allies may be premature in the current environment, Aliriza told CNBC.
“It’s not a question of Turkey sacrificing its NATO membership to fight its war against the YPG. Rather, Turkey is using NATO to remind the U.S. of its obligation as an ally,” he said, adding that this alone would make it “unlikely that Turkey would leave the organization.”
There has been plenty of hot rhetoric coming out of Ankara recently, but the U.S. has moved to calm the situation by sending top White House aides, including president Donald Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, to meet with Turkey to open a dialogue.
Sending officials like McMaster “to meet with Turkey officials shows the importance that the U.S. places on its relationship with Turkey,” Sloat said.
But first, the U.S. administration must solve its own internal differences before it can work on a more concrete solution in Syria. When the U.S.-led coalition made the announcement for plans of a border security force, Tillerson retracted the statement, telling reporters “that entire situation has been mis-portrayed, mis-described, some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all.”
Commanders on the ground have also said definitively that they want to continue the partnership with the YPG, and will not leave the northern Syrian city of Manbij, even after Turkey’s demands that the U.S. pull out.
“The U.S. needs a coherent internal plan to solve their differences, and then come up with a regional plan for Syria,” Sloat said, adding that the “resumption of a ceasefire and peace talks between Turkey and the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] are important to resolve the situation.”
Erdogan is under no illusion that he needs to make any concessions, however, especially with Turkish elections coming up in 2019. The military operations in Afrin have garnered huge public support back in Ankara.
Aliriza acknowledged that an agreement has to be made between all parties involved in the region for a deescalation of the situation, even leaving room for the Syrian Kurds to achieve some part of their goal of autonomy.
On paper, the situation can still be managed, according to him: “The tensions between Turkey and the U.S. has not been solved, but it is put on hold as long as Turkey does not expand their operations to Manbij.”
“Until then, there is no direct confrontation between the NATO allies, and the situation can still be managed,” Aliriza pointed out.
Although the YPG are the U.S. allies on the ground in Syria, the U.S. is not present in Afrin where the Kurdish enclaves have experienced Turkish assaults for the past month. Manbij, however, holds hundreds of American soldiers.
During a Tillerson visit to Turkey, Erdogan proposed a plan to expel the YPG contingent from Manbij, with Turkish forces taking over its place with the U.S. Tillerson has agreed to consider the proposal. There are no signs that the Kurdish militia would accede to the request peacefully, however, and any movement by Ankara into the region could complicate matters further.
“If Turkey enters Manbij, the situation will become even more difficult,” Aliriza said.