Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE on Monday called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to negotiate a ceasefire with Kurdish forces amid violence in the region precipitated by a U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria.

Vice President Pence told reporters outside the White House that Trump “pressed [Erdoğan] very strongly” in a phone call earlier in the day to broker a ceasefire immediately.

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Pence will lead a delegation to Turkey in the coming days to help broker a settlement between Ankara and Kurdish forces, he added.

“The president of the United States called on the president of Turkey to stop the invasion, to enact an immediate ceasefire and to begin negotiations with Kurdish forces in Syria,” said Pence, who was joined by Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWorld Bank approves billion-plus annual China lending plan despite US objections On The Money: Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown | Trump asks Supreme Court to shield financial records from House Democrats | House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading Hillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC MORE and national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

Trump received a “firm commitment” that the Turks would not attack the Syrian city of Kobani, Pence said, where there is a significant concentration of Kurds.

Pence said he and O’Brien would leave for Ankara “as quickly as possible.” He said newly announced sanctions would remain in place or “worsen” until Turkey “embraces an immediate ceasefire, stops the violence and agrees to negotiate a long-term settlement of the issues along the border.”

A senior administration official later told reporters that Trump was confident a ceasefire could be reached following his call with Erdoğan. Trump also spoke with Gen. Mazloum Kobani, the top Kurdish general leading the Syrian Democratic Forces, officials said.

“I think the president would not be willing to send a high-level delegation on short notice like this unless he was pretty confident that there was at least a chance of getting to a ceasefire,” the official said. “His commitment to ensuring the safety of civilians is such that he is willing to take that chance.” 

The move marks a significant step for the White House as it faces unrelenting pressure from Capitol Hill to reconsider its policy in Syria. Trump abruptly announced a week ago that he was pulling U.S. forces out of northern Syria, and within days, Turkey had launched an offensive into the region.

Critics have accused Trump of paving the way for Turkey’s military intervention and have accused the administration of abandoning the Kurds, a key ally in the years-long fight against ISIS in the region.

“The United States of America did not give a green light to Turkey to invade Syria,” Pence said outside the White House, rebutting the assessment of lawmakers and former military officials. “The president has been very clear on that point and reiterated that to President Erdoğan today.” 

Earlier in the day, Trump announced that he would impose sanctions on Turkey over the country’s military incursion in northern Syria. The sanctions target government officials in Ankara. Trump is also increasing steel tariffs on Turkey from 25 percent to 50 percent and halting trade negotiations with Ankara.

“Turkey’s military offensive is endangering civilians and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region,” Trump said in a statement. “I have been perfectly clear with President Erdogan: Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes.”

The moves may assuage some of Trump’s critics on Capitol Hill, among them many Republicans. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump ally who has vocally criticized the president’s decision in Syria, said he supported the sanctions and Trump’s outreach to Turkey.

“President Trump gave Turkey the ability to undo the strategic damage they have already caused in a win-win fashion,” Graham said in a statement, noting he participated in the phone calls with Trump earlier in the day. “I hope they will accept his outreach. Until there is a ceasefire and an end to the bloodshed, sanctions must continue and increase over time.” 

Trump has vociferously defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria over the past week, reiterating his pledge to stop U.S. engagement in “endless wars.” Trump has also downplayed the importance of the U.S.-Kurdish alliance, saying the Kurds aligned with the U.S. on the anti-ISIS campaign only because of their own territorial interests and suggesting Russia, China or Syrian President Bashar Assad could protect them moving forward.

Officials insisted Monday that the U.S. goals in Syria — defeating ISIS, removing Iranian commanded forces and achieving a political solution in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions — remain unchanged. 

“The overall goals of the United States in Syria are unchanged,” a senior administration official said. “The withdrawal of U.S. military forces is a change in the means that we use to try to achieve those ends. It’s not a change in the ends themselves.”