Mike Pence announces that Turkey agreed to a five-day ceasefire in its Syria assault
Deirdre Shesgreen and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAYPublished 6:28 a.m. ET Oct. 17, 2019 | Updated 2:08 p.m. ET Oct. 17, 2019
The House condemned Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria because now Turkey is attacking Kurds, who have been our allies against ISIS. USA TODAY
Turkey agreed to halt its military assault in Syria for five days, in a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that will allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the Turkey-Syria border and potentially end the conflict entirely.
The deal was announced by Vice President Mike Pence, who landed in Turkey Thursday morning on a rescue mission – to salvage American interests in Syria amid an increasingly chaotic geopolitical conflict and a fierce domestic bipartisan backlash.
“It will be a pause in military operations for 120 hours,” Pence told reporters at a news conference after a four-hour meeting with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He said that once the Kurdish forces have withdrawn, Turkey has agreed to “a permanent cease fire” and the U.S. will work with Erdogan’s government to restore that peace and stability to the region.
President Donald Trump dispatched Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to broker the deal a week after Turkish forces invaded northeastern Syria to attack the Kurds.
Trump touted the deal in a tweet minutes after Pence’s announcement, suggesting that his imposition of sanctions pushed Erdogan to reverse course.
“This deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some ‘tough’ love in order to get it done,” Trump tweeted. “Great for everybody. Proud of all!”
Turkey’s incursion, which began shortly after Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, has unleashed a free-for-all inside that corner of Syria, with Russia, Iran and other powers vying for influence.
Diplomacy?: Turkey’s leader rebuffs US call for Syria cease-fire, says he’ll meet Pence
Erdogan had initially rebuffed Trump’s demand for a halt to the Turkish attack, shrugging off the White House’s threats of crippling economic sanctions and saying he had no plans to pull back. Turkey views the Kurdish fighters – who helped U.S. forces battle the Islamic State – as terrorists because of their affiliation with an offshoot group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK.
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It’s not clear why he reversed course on Thursday.
Trump on Wednesday seemed to distance himself from the crisis in Syria, even as he dispatched Pence and Pompeo to solve it.
“It’s not our problem,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Hours later, the House overwhelming passed a bipartisan resolution condemning Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which critics said gave Erdogan a green light to invade territory held by the U.S.-allied Kurds. Trump’s comments only seemed to further fuel the bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill to his troop withdrawal decision.
“What the president said today is just outrageously dangerous,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “It undercuts Pence and Pompeo. And I don’t agree with his construct that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is of no concern.”
Trump warned Erdogan “don’t be a tough guy” in a letter to his counterpart before Ankara launched a deadly incursion in northern Syria.
The Oct. 9 letter was confirmed by a senior administration official. “Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will,” Trump wrote.
BBC Turkey reported Thursday that when Erdogan received Trump’s letter he scrunched it up and threw it in the trash. He then launched Turkey’s offensive against Syria’s Kurds. Erdogan’s office did not return a request for confirmation of the incident.
On Thursday, Trump defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria on Twitter.
“I am the only person who can fight for the safety of our troops & bring them home from the ridiculous & costly Endless Wars, and be scorned,” the president wrote. “Democrats always liked that position, until I took it. Democrats always liked Walls, until I built them. Do you see what’s happening here?”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, gives a speech as Vice President Mike Pence looks on during a luncheon at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20, 2019.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, gives a speech as Vice President Mike Pence looks on during a luncheon at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)