On February 21 the US and Turkish Presidents had a phone call. Soon after, the US announced that around 200 troops would remain in Syria as part of an international force. Turkey’s Defense Minister then went to the US to discuss this and other issues.
This comes in the wake of a December 19 speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which was tweeted by the Turkish Presidency. The statement hints that the safe zone will be used to re-settle Syrian refugees in Turkey. “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted a dinner at Çırağan Palace for the visiting ministers and delegation heads attending the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Budapest Process.”
A report on the speech by the President’s office, titled “The safe zone formula is the most practical solution for Syrian refugees to return home” and the statement notes: “Further stressing that the safe zone formula, which he said he had brought forward when the refugee crisis had first erupted, is the most practical solution for Syrian refugees to return home, President Erdoğan noted: ‘In order for that formula to be feasible, the safe zone should be controlled by Turkey, with other countries supplying logistical support. We’ll soon implement that formula on the ground. We have made the necessary preparations along our border line and decided on our plans and strategies. We also thoroughly discussed this issue with Mr. Putin and Mr. Rouhani in Sochi last week. I believe that our European friends will provide the necessary support to our country with regard to the creation of the safe zone, too.'”
Of interest here is that the European powers and NATO might be involved in the safe zone. The US has indicated that the few hundred troops it will leave in Syria will be split between Tanf and eastern Syria.
This is not the first time that there were hints that Turkey hoped a safe zone could be used to re-settle refugees. Turkey sought to do the same in the mostly Kurdish area of Afrin after march 2018, and it appears that hundreds of thousands of mostly Arab refugees from Syria have moved there. The US has not been clear on how the safe zone will be run but the SDF have rejected the idea of Turkey controlling it.