US Delegation Seeks Turkey Cease-Fire 10/17 06:23
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- A senior U.S. delegation faces the herculean task of
pressuring Turkey to accept a cease-fire in Northern Syria, hours after
President Donald Trump declared the U.S. has no stake in defending Kurdish
fighters who died by the thousands as America's partners against Islamic State
Vice President Mike Pence, heading a U.S. delegation that includes Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien,
arrived in Turkey on Thursday, a day after Trump dismissed the very crisis he
sent his aides on an emergency mission to douse.
Trump suggested Wednesday that a Kurdish group was a greater terror threat
than the Islamic State group, and he welcomed the efforts of Russia and the
Assad government to fill the void left after he ordered the removal of nearly
all U.S. troops from Syria amid a Turkish assault on the Kurds.
"Syria may have some help with Russia, and that's fine," Trump said.
"They've got a lot of sand over there. So, there's a lot of sand that they can
He added: "Let them fight their own wars."
The split-screen foreign policy moment proved difficult to reconcile and
came during perhaps the darkest moment for the modern U.S.-Turkey relationship
and a time of trial for Trump and his Republican Party allies. Severe
condemnation of Trump's failure to deter Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan's assault on the Kurds, and his subsequent embrace of Turkish talking
points about the former U.S. allies, sparked bipartisan outrage in the U.S. and
calls for swift punishment for the NATO ally.
Republicans and Democrats in the House, bitterly divided over the Trump
impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of
the U.S. troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that the withdrawal
may lead to revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area
--- in addition to the slaughter of many Kurds.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., publicly broke with Trump to
call the U.S. relationship with the Kurds "a great alliance."
"I'm sorry that we are where we are. I hope the vice president and the
secretary of state can somehow repair the damage," McConnell said Wednesday.
Even among top administration officials, there were concerns that the trip
lacked achievable goals and had been undermined by Trump even before it began.
While Erdogan faces global condemnation for the invasion, he also sees renewed
nationalistic fervor at home, and any pathway to de-escalation likely would
need to delicately avoid embarrassing Erdogan domestically. The officials spoke
on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking.
The White House disclosed that Trump had both cajoled and threatened Erdogan
in an unusual letter last week, urging him to act only in "the right and humane
way" in Syria. The letter was sent the same day Erdogan launched the major
offensive against the Kurds.
Trump started on a positive note by suggesting they "work out a good deal,"
but then talked about crippling economic sanctions and concluded 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!"
Trump did place some sanctions Monday on Turkey for the offensive. But as
his emissaries were departing to threaten even tougher actions in the days
ahead, Trump appeared to undercut their negotiating stance. He said the U.S.
has no business in the region --- and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.
"If Turkey goes onto Syria, that's between Turkey and Syria, it's not
between Turkey and the United States," Trump said during an Oval Office meeting
with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
As he seeks to push Erdogan to agree to a cease-fire, Pence will confront
doubts about American credibility and his own, as an emissary of an
"Given how erratic President Trump's decision-making process and style has
been, it's just hard to imagine any country on the receiving end of another
interlocutor really being confident that what Pence and Pompeo are delivering
reflects Trump's thinking at the moment or what it will be in the future," said
Jeffrey Prescott, the Obama administration's senior director for Iran, Iraq,
Syria and the Gulf states on the National Security Council and a former deputy
national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden.
The withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump's presidency, said Sen.
Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who meets often with the president and is one of his
strongest and most important supporters in Congress.
"To those who think the Mideast doesn't matter to America, remember 9/11 ---
we had that same attitude on 9/10/2001," Graham said
Even before Trump's comments, Erdogan had publicly stated that he will be
undeterred by the sanctions and resisted calls for a cease-fire Wednesday,
saying the fighting would end only if Kurdish fighters abandoned their weapons
and retreated from positions near the Turkish border. If Pence can persuade
Turkey to agree to a cease-fire, which few U.S. officials believed was likely,
experts warn it will not erase the signal Trump's action sent to American
allies across the globe or the opening already being exploited by Russia in the
"Deterring an action that hasn't yet been taken is almost always easier than
trying to coerce someone to reverse an action that they've already committed
blood, treasure and honor to," said John Hannah, former national security
adviser for former Vice President Dick Cheney and a senior counselor for
Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
In public appearances, Trump said he was fulfilling a campaign promise to
bring U.S. troops home from "endless wars" in the Middle East --- casting aside
criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria betrays the Kurdish
fighters, stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important
region to Russia.
"We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria's not
happy about it. Let them work it out," Trump said. "They have a problem at a
border. It's not our border. We shouldn't be losing lives over it."
After the House voted to condemn the withdrawal, congressional leaders of
both parties went to the White house for a briefing, which grew contentious,
with Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi trading jabs. The Democrats said they
walked out when the meeting devolved into an insult-fest.
"What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown," Pelosi,
D-Calif., told reporters, saying Trump appeared visibly "shaken up" over the
House vote. And Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York criticized
Trump for not having an adequate plan to deal with IS fighters who have been
held by the Kurds. He said the meeting "was not a dialogue, this was sort of a
diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts."
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham called Pelosi's action "baffling
but not surprising." She said the speaker "had no intention of listening or
contributing to an important meeting on national security issues."
Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive
against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump
suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area. Erdogan has said
he wants to create a "safe zone" 30 kilometers (20 miles) deep in Syria.
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.
Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the U.S. military in
carrying out his instructions to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern
Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers who evacuated from
Turkey's initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the U.S. has
"largely" completed its pullout.
A U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said
that they are consolidating onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying
out of Syria in significant numbers. Military equipment is being gathered and
flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the
sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.
As U.S. troops pulled back, at least one ammunition cache was destroyed by a
U.S. airstrike to prevent its usefulness, as Russian forces took possession of
other former American strongholds.