ISTANBUL      -     Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Syrian government forces to move out of areas near the Turkish border so he can resettle up to 2 million refugees there, his spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday. The request will top Erdogan’s talks next week with Syria’s ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Arrangements along the Syrian-Turkish border were thrown into disarray after the U.S. pulled its troops out of the area, opening the door to Turkey’s invasion aiming to drive out Kurdish-led fighters it considers terrorists.

Abandoned by their American allies, the Kurds — with Russia’s mediation — invited Damascus to send troops into northeastern Syria as protection from Turkish forces. That has complicated Turkey’s plan to create a “safe zone” along the border, where it can resettle Syrian refugees now in Turkey. Most of those refugees fled Syria’s government.

Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during an interview in Istanbul, Oct. 19, 2019. Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said Ankara does not want either Syrian forces or Kurdish fighters in the border area because refugees would not go back to areas under their control. Turkey has said it wants to oversee that area.

“This is one of the topics that we will discuss with the Russians, because, again, we are not going to force any refugees to go to anywhere they don’t want to go,” he said. “We want to create conditions that will be suitable for them to return where they will feel safe.”

Turkey has taken in about 3.6 million Syrians fleeing the conflict in their homeland but now wants most of them to return. So far, very few have returned to an enclave Turkey already took over and has controlled since 2017.

Under an agreement made by the U.S. and Turkey on Thursday, a five-day cease-fire has been in place. Turkey expects the Kurdish fighters to pull back from a border area.

A senior Syrian Kurdish official acknowledged for the first time that the Kurdish-led forces agreed to the pullback, stating that his forces would move 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the border.

Redur Khalil, a senior Syrian Democratic Forces official, told the AP that the withdrawal would take place once Turkey allowed the Kurdish-led force to evacuate its fighters and civilians from Ras al-Ayn, a border town under siege by Turkish-backed forces. He said that the Kurdish-led force was preparing to conduct that evacuation Sunday, if there were no further delays.

Khalil said Kurdish-led fighters would pull back from a 120-kilometer (75-mile) stretch along the border from Ras al-Ayn to Tal Abyad, moving past the international highway.  “We are only committed to the U.S. version, not the Turkish one,” Khalil said.  A previous agreement between the U.S. and Turkey over a “safe zone” along the Syria-Turkish border floundered over the diverging definitions of the area.

Erdogan has said the Kurdish fighters must withdraw from a far larger length of the border, from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border — more than 440 kilometers (260 miles) — or else the Turkish offensive will resume Tuesday.

But U.S. officials say the agreement pertains to the smaller section between the two towns. Kalin confirmed that is the area affected by the pause in fighting, but said Turkey still wanted the larger zone.