Russia, Turkey and Iran on May 4 agreed the plan to establish four de-escalation zones in areas with a significant rebel presence. This is the latest stage in a long-term debate about potential ‘safe zones’ culminating in a March 22 statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the United States would work to establish ‘interim zones of stability’ through ceasefires, to allow refugees to return home. However, Washington objects to Iran’s guarantor role in the Russian plan, while Damascus has not explicitly signed up.
- The Syrian case could entrench a developing trend of establishing safe zones outside the framework of international law.
- The prospect of safe zones could be used by neighbouring countries to justify border closures and deny refugee claims.
- Any effort to create effective safe zones would tend to increase foreign states’ military involvement in Syria.