Angela Merkel backs plan for a ‘safe zone’ for migrants in northern Syria which could be enforced by German troops
- Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer proposed a safe zone to protect civilians in Syria
- Angela Merkel has backed her but her coalition partners appear more sceptical
- She has not ruled out deploying German troops, saying parliament would decide
German chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown her support behind her defence minister’s controversial plan for a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria enforced by Western troops – possibly even German ones.
Merkel told conservative MPs that the idea was ‘very promising, even if there are many questions’, sources in the parliamentary party said.
The chancellor’s decision to welcome a million Syrian migrants in 2015 has tarnished her political standing at home, but the idea of a ‘safe zone’ has previously been mooted to reduce the outflow of refugees from the war-torn country.
But Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s plan has already met with resistance from Merkel’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD).
One SPD member, Heiko Maas, told reporters the idea had provoked a ‘certain degree of irritation’ among NATO allies.
It is the first time Berlin has proposed a military mission in the Middle East.
Angela Merkel (left) has thrown her support behind a Middle East plan advocated by her defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (right, at a party meeting in Berlin today)
‘We cannot just stand by and watch and not do anything,’ the defence minister told German television.
A security zone could protect displaced civilians and ensure the fight continues against Islamic State militants, Kramp-Karrenbauer argued.
She did not rule out sending German soldiers to Syria, saying that would be a matter for parliament.
The use of military force remains a highly sensitive subject in Germany because of the legacy of World War II.
The defence minister said she would discuss the initiative with NATO partners this week.
Europe and Germany must ‘come up with our own recommendations and initiate discussions,’ she told German media.
In a sign of division in Merkel’s coalition, foreign minister Maas said there were ‘high hurdles’ against any international effort in Syria.
The German chancellor (pictured at the European Council summit in Brexit last week)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladmir Putin meet in the resort of Sochi for a summit to discuss the future of Syria
‘One thing is clear above all else: a protection zone that permanently consolidates Turkey’s military successes would not deserve this name,’ Maas said today.
‘Nor must the Assad regime be recognized and strengthened through the back door,’ he added.
There had been ‘no discussion’ of an international mission to north-east Syria with Germany’s allies so far, Maas said.
Merkel’s last major intervention on Syria – opening Germany’s borders to a million refugees fleeing the conflict in 2015 – has caused a series of political headaches for her ever since.
The populist AfD has chipped away at her party’s support and entered the national parliament for the first time in 2017.
Merkel has promised to stand down by 2021 and Kramp-Karrenbauer – widely known as AKK – is seen as her most likely successor.
U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to Iraq yesterday in a withdrawal which has opened the way for a Turkish invasion and thrust Syria back into the international spotlight
Merkel suffered an odd series of health scares over the summer, fuelling further speculation about her future.
However, AKK has seen her own political fortunes suffer with a series of gaffes since she became party chair last year.
The long-running Syrian conflict has returned to the spotlight in recent weeks after Donald Trump pulled out American troops.
That opened the door for Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send his military into northern Syria to attack Kurdish fighters whom Ankara regards as terrorists.
Turkey has paused the campaign during a five-day ceasefire brokered by Washington but it expires later today.
Erdogan met Russian President Vladimir Putin – a key ally of Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad – for talks in Sochi today in an effort to defuse the crisis.
When asked about Kramp-Karrenbauer’s safe zone proposal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov withheld judgement.
‘We don’t have a position because this is a new initiative,’ he said. ‘We need to study it.’