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US, Turkey agree on Turkish cease-fire with Syrian Kurds

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, talks with U.S Vice President Mike Pence, during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. A high level U.S. delegation arrived in Turkey on Thursday for talks on a cease-fire in Syria. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Turkey (AP) — The U.S. and Turkey agreed Thursday to a cease-fire in
the Turks’ deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria,
requiring the Kurds to vacate the area in an arrangement that largely
solidifies Turkey’s position and aims in the weeklong conflict. The deal
includes a conditional halt to American economic sanctions.

negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.S. Vice
President Mike Pence hailed the five-day cease-fire as the way to end
the bloodshed caused by Turkey’s invasion. He remained silent on whether
it amounted to a second abandonment of America’s former Kurdish allies
in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Turkish troops and
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish
forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after President Donald
Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. military from the
area. Trump was widely criticized for turning on the Kurds, who had
taken heavy casualties as partners with the U.S. in fighting IS
extremists since 2016.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu
said the United States had accepted the idea of a “safe zone” long
pushed by Turkey, and he insisted Turkish armed forces will control the
zone. He also made clear that Turkey will not stop at a previously
limited zone; he said Turkish control of the Syrian side of the border
must extend all the way to the Iraqi border.

The commander of Kurdish-led forces in Syria, Mazloum Abdi
, told Kurdish TV, “We will do whatever we can for the success of the
cease-fire agreement.” But one Kurdish official, Razan Hiddo, declared
that Kurdish people would refuse to live under Turkish occupation.

Trump had no reservations, hailing “a great day for civilization.”

agreed to things that three days ago they would have never agreed to,”
he told reporters. “That includes the Kurds. The Kurds are now much more
inclined to do what has to be done. Turkey is much more inclined to do
what has to be done.”

Trump seemed to endorse the Turkish aim of
ridding the Syrian side of the border of the Kurdish fighters whom
Turkey deems to be terrorists but who fought against IS on behalf of the
U.S. “They had to have it cleaned out,” he said.

Leading U.S. lawmakers were less pleased than Trump.

Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2012, said he
welcomed the cease-fire but wanted to know what America’s role in the
region would be and why Turkey was facing no consequences for its

“Further, the cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally,” he said on the Senate floor.

was not clear whether the deal means the U.S. military will play a role
in enabling or enforcing the cease-fire. Pence said the U.S. would
“facilitate” the Kurds’ pullout, but he did not say if that would
include the use of American troops.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

Pence was speaking in Ankara, U.S. troops were continuing to board
aircraft leaving northern Syria. Officials said a couple of hundred had
already departed, with hundreds more consolidated at a few bases waiting
to move out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant who has
criticized the president’s pullout, said he thinks U.S. troops will be
needed as part of an effort to implement and enforce a halt to the
fighting. “There’s just no way around it,” he said. “We need to maintain
control of the skies” and work with the Kurds.

While the
cease-fire seemed likely to temporarily slow legislation in Congress
aimed at punishing Turkey and condemning Trump’s U.S. troop withdrawal,
lawmakers gave no sign of completely dropping the measures.

before the announcement of the pause in hostilities, Graham and Sen.
Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced legislation that would bar U.S.
military aid to Turkey, seek to curb foreign arms sales to Ankara and
impose sanctions on top Turkish officials unless Turkey withdraws its
forces. Those sanctions would include a report on Erdogan’s family

In contrast with Pence’s description of a limited safe
zone, the agreement would effectively create a zone of control patrolled
by the Turkish military that Ankara wants to stretch for the entire
border from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, though the
agreement did not define the extent of the zone. Turkish forces
currently control about a quarter of that length, captured in the past
nine days.

The rest is held by the Kurdish-led forces or by the
Syrian government military, backed by Russia, which the Kurds invited to
move in to shield them from the Turks. None of those parties has much
reason to let Turkish forces into the areas.

Ankara has long
argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the
Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign
inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and
European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

In fact,
Turkey’s foreign minister rejected the term “cease-fire,” saying that
would be possible only with a legitimate second party. He suggested a
“pause” in fighting instead.

Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who took part in the negotiations, lauded the deal.

the agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought to
achieve with their military operation in the first place. After the
Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a
permanent cease-fire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops.
In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions the
administration had imposed and threatened to increase, meaning there
will be no penalty for the operation.

Brett McGurk, the former
civilian head of the administration’s U.S.-led counter-IS campaign,
wrote on Twitter that Thursday’s deal was a gift to the Turks.

US just ratified Turkey’s plan to effectively extend its border 30km
into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the
ground,” he wrote, adding that the arrangement was “non-implementable.”

Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the
American Enterprise Institute, tweeted, “This is a respite while we
surrender to Turkish domination of Northeast Syria.”

Erdogan had
stated on Wednesday that he would be undeterred by U.S. sanctions. He
said the fighting would end only if Kurdish fighters abandoned their
weapons and retreated from positions near the Turkish border.

the talks, the Kurds indicated they would object to any agreement along
the lines of what was announced by Pence. But Pence maintained that the
U.S. had obtained “repeated assurances from them that they’ll be moving

Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops has been widely
condemned, including by Republican officials not directly associated
with his administration. Republicans and Democrats in the House,
bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together
Wednesday for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop

Trump has denied that his action provided a “green
light” for Turkey to move against the longtime U.S. battlefield partners
or that he was opening the way for a revival of the Islamic State
group, new Russian influence in the region and increased worldwide
doubts about U.S. faithfulness to its allies.

The White House
released a letter on Wednesday in which Trump warned Erdogan that the
sanctions could destroy his economy and that the world “will look upon
you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough
guy. Don’t be a fool!”

While Erdogan, too, heard global
condemnation for his invasion, he also faced renewed nationalistic
fervor at home, and any pathway to de-escalation likely needed to avoid
embarrassing him domestically.


AP National Security
Writer Robert Burns reported from Washington. AP writers Deb Riechmann,
Alan Fram, Darlene Superville, Lolita C. Baldor, Jill Colvin, Kevin
Freking and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Washington.