Turkey Proposes Syria 'Safe Zone' in Return for Cooperation With EU on Refugee Crisis

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote to EU leaders this week proposing ideas on how to deal with the refugee crisis, including support for a "safe zone" in northern Syria in return for Ankara's cooperation on the issue, according to EU officials.

In July, U.S. officials said that the Turkish government was considering the formation of a buffer zone in northern Syria.

The move was raised by Ankara with the aim of creating an "ISIS-free zone" following the suspected ISIS-linked suicide bomb that killed 32 people in the Turkish border town of Suruc in July and also to counter the advances of Kurdish militiamen along the Turkish-Syrian border against ISIS and split them from the Kurdish PKK fighters who have conducted a number of deadly attacks against Turkish authorities since a two year ceasefire collapsed in July.

Talk of a secure zone in northern Syria has since cooled in Washington but Davutoglu resurfaced the idea of the "safe zone" to EU leaders in a three-page letter on Wednesday on the basis that it would help to stem the flow of refugees to Europe's borders and allow Turkey to resettle refugees within its own territory.

"I can confirm that the letter from the Prime Minister of Turkey has been received. A response will be sent in due course," Maja Kocijančič, spokesperson for the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy, tells Newsweek by email.

An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, told Newsweek that the letter focused on the refugee crisis and confirmed that Davutoglu proposed a "safe zone" in northern Syria.

"Basically, the letter deals with the management of the refugee crisis," the official told Newsweek by phone. "There are ideas included in it on how this could be done and basically Turkey reaffirmed their commitment to deal with this crisis as a priority and expects that it will be addressed on different levels with all seriousness."

"They don't use the term 'buffer zone', they use the word 'safe zone'," the official added. "It's not our letter to reveal, it's for the Turkish prime minister and his office to decide whether they want to make the letter public or not."

While the full contents of the letter are yet to be released by either Brussels or Anakara, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that Davutoglu demanded concessions from Brussels in return for Turkey's cooperation on the crisis. This included EU support for the "safe zone" that would measure 80km (50 miles) by 40km (25 miles). Davutoglu wrote that the zone, if safe enough, had the potential to be used as a tract of territory for the "voluntary return of refugees," according to the BBC.

The European Commission has proposed setting aside €1 billion ($1.1 billion) to help Turkey cope with the almost two million Syrian refugees that have crossed into its territory since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in March 2011.

The bloc has therefore identified Turkey as a key player in preventing the mass influx of refugees but Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, in comments made after an emergency Brussels summit on Wednesday, said that money "is not the big problem" in coercing Turkey for greater assistance. "It is not as easy as expected," he said in reference to Turkey, where he had just returned from.

On the concessions that Turkey is reportedly requesting, an EU official told The Guardian: "There are many people who doubt the sincerity of their motives. They (Turkey) are not offering too much."

A representative from Davutoglu's office was not immediately available for comment.