The Syrian opposition has informed the U.S. of the need to closely coordinate with Turkey on its planned troop withdrawal, Syrian opposition leader Abdul Rahman Mustafa has said.
According to Mustafa, who leads the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a proposed “safe zone” in northern Syria -- near the Turkish border -- could serve as a "haven" for the region’s displaced civilians.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Mustafa discussed his recent meeting with Joel Rayburn, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Levant affairs and special envoy for Syria.
"The meeting was positive and constructive," Mustafa said. "We presented our vision for a solution in Syria while Rayburn presented Washington’s vision.”
At the meeting, Mustafa said, “we also stressed the need to coordinate with our Turkish allies during the [U.S.] withdrawal -- with a view to avoiding a security vacuum -- and maintain constant contact with the Turks east of the Euphrates”.
According to Mustafa, they also discussed “the dangers posed by ongoing Iranian efforts to penetrate Syria’s national fabric... which they are trying to achieve by imposing demographic changes”.
An opposition delegation is set to visit the U.S. next month, he said, “since there should be permanent contact between active countries, whether in the field or with regard to the political process”.
He added: “We believe that a military solution east of the Euphrates would contribute to reaching a political solution."
On the planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, Mustafa said that coordination with Turkey was “vital” to ensuring that vacated areas “are not filled by terrorist groups or the regime and its allies”.
As for recent developments east of the Euphrates and proposals for a “safe zone” in the region, he said: "We are following the terms of the roadmap agreed to between our ally, Turkey, and the U.S.”
“In this regard,” Mustafa asserted, “the National Coalition is calling for the withdrawal of the YPG/PYD, which represents the PKK terrorist group in Manbij, to allow the return of refugees and displaced people.”
“We would then like to see local elections in Manbij to allow the people to set up a civil administration, exactly like what took place in Afrin," he said.
As for a proposed “safe zone”, Mustafa said: “The zone should serve as a haven for displaced civilians, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation."
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. counterpart Donald Trump had a phone conversation in which they discussed proposals for establishing a “terror-free safe zone” in northern Syria.
"We expect to see several proposals and initiatives for the region,” Mustafa said. “A tribal council has already been drawn up in the area [Manbij].”
“The Kurdish National Council is a component of the National Coalition,” he added. “We’re currently discussing the 'safe zone' issue with them.”
“The National Coalition and the [Syrian] interim government, the coalition’s executive arm, are ready to assume responsibility in the safe zone,” Mustafa said.
The opposition leader also condemned recent attacks on U.S. forces deployed in northern Syria.
"The Syrian people have suffered greatly from terrorism," he said, going on to accuse “those who oppose the proposed safe zone and Turkey-U.S. cooperation” of standing behind the attacks.
On Monday, a car-bomb targeted a U.S. military convoy in Syria's northwestern Al-Hasakah province. Two days later, four Americans -- including two soldiers -- were killed in a suicide attack in the northern city of Manbij.
The latter attack was subsequently claimed by the Daesh terrorist group.
“The National Coalition supports military operations against terrorist groups,” Mustafa said. “We would welcome a Turkish military operation east of the Euphrates, just as we welcomed Turkey’s Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations.”
On Geir Pedersen’s recent appointment as new UN envoy to Syria, he said: "We’re optimistic. During the tenure of Staffan de Mistura [as UN Syria envoy], little progress was made on the political front."
According to Mustafa, Pederson has already met with members of the National Coalition’s negotiating team.
Mustafa went on to stress the importance attached by the National Coalition “to the implementation of UN resolutions, especially [UN Security Council Resolution] 2254”.
As for the Assad regime’s position on the political process, he said: “The regime’s position is well-known; it chose the military option from the outset.”
Mustafa added: "The regime has done its best to stymy the political process. Because it knows that [a legitimate political process] would end its existence.”