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Turkey-backed Syrian fighters outside Tal Abyad, Syria. Photo: Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images

The agreement reached between Russia and Turkey on Tuesday for a "safe zone" 20 miles into northeast Syria secures a goal long sought by Ankara, but the current ceasefire remains fragile and the deal carries challenges of its own.

The big picture: The deal solidifies the diplomatic marginalization of the U.S. in an area where until weeks ago it had been a stabilizing force. Nevertheless, President Trump hailed the agreement as a "huge success" and announced that the U.S. would lift its recent sanctions on Turkey.

Where it stands: The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) now has 150 hours to complete its withdrawal before Russian and Syrian government forces launch joint patrols with Turkish forces inside the zone.

  • Turkey will retain direct control over a roughly 70-mile stretch of land between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, much of it seized in the last few weeks. YPG fighters withdrew from this area under the terms of the ceasefire negotiated between the U.S. and Turkey last week.
  • Most of the remaining 1,000 U.S. troops have redeployed to Iraq. A U.S contingent may remain in Deir ez-Zor to guard the region’s oil supply, but such a small presence would likely not have a meaningful strategic impact.

Between the lines: Despite fanfare in some quarters, the Russia-Turkey deal suffers from serious challenges.

  • The YPG is not party to the agreement, and its fighters are unlikely to voluntarily abandon Syrian Kurds who live in these towns and villages within six days.
  • It's not clear that the Bashar al-Assad regime and Russia are in a position to directly compel their withdrawal (Damascus and Moscow are already in the midst of a campaign next door in Idlib province). Rather, Russia has warned the Kurds to pull out of the safe zone or risk being crushed by Turkey.
  • Despite its assurances to President Trump, Turkey is still poised to press its invasion of northeast Syria. If it tries to fully clear the YPG from the border area, Turkey would once again employ its Syrian proxy militia, which has committed horrific abuses against Kurdish civilians in recent weeks.

The bottom line: Renewed conflict in northeast Syria is increasingly likely. Further violence could pave the way for ethnic cleansing, forcing hundreds of thousands of additional Kurdish civilians to flee their homes and letting Turkey resettle the safe zone mainly with Syrian Arab refugees.

Hardin Lang is vice president for programs and policy at Refugees International.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.S. and U.K. blame Iran for drone strike on oil tanker

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, now believe Iran was likely responsible for last week's drone strike on an oil tanker in the Arabian sea.

Why it matters: The United States and Britain now join Israel in accusing Tehran of being behind the July 29 attack off the coast of Oman. Iran has denied involvement.

8 hours ago - Sports

Suni Lee wins bronze medal in uneven bars

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

U.S. gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee won her 3rd Olympic medal on Sunday, taking home bronze in the individual uneven bars event.

Driving the news: Also on Sunday, U.S. gymnast MyKayla Skinner won the silver medal in the vault on Sunday after stepping in for Simone Biles, who withdrew from the event to prioritize her mental health and well-being.

Updated 9 hours ago - Sports

The Olympic events to watch today

U.S. diver Krysten Palmer. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

5 events to watch today...
  • 🏃 Track & Field: Watch the men’s 100m final at 8:50 a.m. ET on nbcolympics.com
  • 🏐 Men’s volleyball: USA plays Argentina in the group stage at 8:45 a.m. on NBC.
  • 🤸 Gymnastics event finals: Watch the replay of the men's floor exercise and pommel horse, as well as the women's vault and uneven bars starting at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
  • 🤽Men's water polo: USA takes on Greece in group play at 10:30 p.m. ET on CNBC.
  • 🏊Women's springboard final: Watch the replay tonight on NBC.

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