Syria conflict: US and Turkey agree to avert Manbij clash

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media captionWhy do the two biggest military powers in Nato risk fighting each other in Syria?

The US and Turkey, whose forces are at loggerheads in northern Syria, have agreed to try to defuse the crisis.

The Nato allies said joint teams would meet shortly to work through their diplomatic differences, including a dispute over the city of Manbij.

Turkey has threatened to attack US-allied Kurdish forces in Manbij, whom they regard as terrorists.

Pro-Turkish forces are battling the militia in nearby Afrin, across Turkey's southern border with Syria.

The US also has soldiers in Manbij, which was taken from the Islamic State group (IS) by forces led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in 2016.

image copyrightReuters
image captionUS support for Kurdish forces in Manbij has infuriated Turkey

Last week, a top US general said his forces would "respond aggressively" to any Turkish-backed attack on Manbij.

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened the US with an "Ottoman slap" - a historical reference to a supposedly deadly blow.

Speaking at a joint news conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu said working teams would tackle disputes which have led to heightened tensions between the two powers.

"Manbij is going to be given priority in our joint working effort," Mr Tillerson said.

The BBC's Mark Lowen in Istanbul says there was, it seems, no breakthrough in these talks but an inching forward from what Mr Tillerson called a "crisis point" in US-Turkey relations.

The secretary of state said that while US "recognise[d] the legitimate right of Turkey to secure its borders" Turkey needed to "show restraint in its operations [in Afrin] to minimise casualties to civilians".

Mr Tillerson said he and Mr Cavusoglu agreed their countries' objectives for Syria were "precisely the same - there is no daylight between [them]".

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image captionMr Tillerson said the two countries' objectives in Syria were identical

Mr Cavusoglu said the mechanisms they had agreed upon were aimed at "finding real outcomes - we are not wasting each other's times".

On a note of discord, the foreign minister said the US had dishonoured a previous pledge to make sure Kurdish forces pulled back east across the Euphrates river.

He warned that "if the YPG takes hold of these areas [west of the river], stability will never enter this area. We will work towards making sure this will never happen."

Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades.

Last month, Turkish forces backed by pro-Turkish Syrian rebels, attacked Afrin with the declared aim of driving the YPG out.

Manbij lies 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin in YPG-controlled territory. The mainly Arab city is separated from Afrin by an enclave captured from IS by pro-Turkish rebels in a Turkish-led operation in 2016.

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