Unnamed Turkish military officials on Thursday told Reuters that talks on the planned zone would continue, but reiterated that Ankara’s expectations in Syria's Manbij had not yet been met, Presstv Reported.
Manbij is situated near the border with Turkey and currently held by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of Kurdish militants supported by the United States.
The SDF includes Syria's Kurdish militants of the People's Protection Units (YPG), which is regarded by Turkey as a terrorist organization and an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
Manbij has been a sticking point in Washington-Ankara relations since its capture from the Daesh terrorist group in late 2016 as the two sides have sought to establish a zone free of militants in northern Syria.
Speaking at a briefing in Ankara Thursday, one Turkish military official said work on the zone is planned to continue in the coming period.
“We cannot share details as efforts are under way. Our aims are clear. The Turkish army is the only force capable of doing this,” the official said.
“Despite all our work, the end-goal of the Manbij roadmap, which is for the area to be cleared of the YPG, for heavy arms to be collected, and a local administration to be formed, has not been reached. There are still around 1,000 [YPG] terrorists in the region,” the official said.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after talks with US special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey on Wednesday that Ankara had run “out of patience” with Washington.
He warned that Turkey would conduct a military operation in the Manbij region if an agreement on the safe zone were not reached.
"We got the impression that they want to enter a stalling process here as in Manbij," Cavusoglu said, referring to a deal reached between Ankara and Washington last year to purportedly remove YPG militants.
The US Embassy in Ankara said in a statement later on Wednesday that Jeffrey held “forthright, positive, and productive” talks with Turkish officials.
Turkey mulls possible Syria operation east of Euphrates
In a related development on Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar held a meeting with military officials to discuss the launch of a possible military operation in northern Syria, the ministry said in a statement.
The development came after Ankara announced on Wednesday that it had "run out of patience" with the United States in talks over the formation of the zone, after Turkish and U.S. officials held a series of meetings on the planned safe zone and other developments in the region, Reuters reported.
"We conveyed our views and requests to the delegation that came here. We expect them to evaluate these and answer us immediately," the ministry quoted Akar as saying in the statement, adding, "We emphasized to them once again that we have no tolerance for any delays, and that we will use our initiative if necessary."
Earlier this year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish military would launch an offensive into northern Syria to clear the region of YPG militants, a move that would have marked Turkey’s third cross-border operation inside the Arab country in as many years.
The Turkish military and its so-called Free Syrian Army proxies have so far launched two cross-border operations in northern Syria with the declared aim of eradicating Kurdish militants and Daesh terrorists near Turkey’s borders.
The US revised plans for a total withdrawal of troops from the Arab country in February, under which between 800 and 1,500 foreign troops would police northeastern Syria.
The announcement was a reversal of President Donald Trump's decision to pull all 2,000 US troops out of Syria.
Ankara suspects Washington and allies are helping the YPG militants based in east of the Euphrates River to establish a permanent foothold in the region.