Pence announces Syria cease-fire deal with Turkey

The United States and Turkey have reached a deal to temporarily suspend Ankara’s incursion into northern Syria, Vice President Pence announced Thursday.

Turkey will suspend its operations for 120 hours to allow Kurdish YPG fighters to withdraw from a designated safe zone along the Turkish and Syrian border.

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“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria, in order to allow from YPG forces to withdraw from the safe zone for 120 hours,” Pence said following more than five hours of negotiations between a U.S. delegation and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Pence along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led the American delegation seeking to persuade Erdoğan to accept the cease-fire.

The Trump administration, especially the president himself — faced harsh criticism in the past several weeks for the decision to pull back U.S. forces in Syria earlier this month.

The White House abruptly announced the move late on Oct. 6, following a call between Trump and Erdoğan, and critics, including several Republicans, have accused Trump of paving the way for the Turkish military operation against Syrian Kurds as well as abandoning the forces who were a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State

Ankara considers the People’s Protection Unit, also known as YPG, a terrorist group and launched an offensive into Syria last week. 

Pence said that during the 120-hour cease-fire the United States will facilitate the withdrawal of the Kurdish fighters from a roughly 20-mile safe zone set up along the Turkish-Syria border. He added that the withdrawal had already begun.

“Once that is completed, Turkey has agreed to a permanent cease-fire and the United States of America will work with Turkey, will work with nations around the world, to ensure that peace and stability is the order of the day.”

Following the press conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pressed that the U.S.-Turkey agreement was “not a ceasefire.”

 “We will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists to leave. We will only stop the operation if our conditions are met,” Cavusoglu said in a separate news conference. 

The administration, however, is lauding the deal as a victory. 

Pence praised the “strong leadership that President Trump provided to this moment and the cooperation with President Erdoğan and Turkey.”

Following the announcement, Trump tweeted that the deal “could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some ‘tough’ love in order to get it done. Great for everybody. Proud of all!”

He later added: “This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!”

Trump also told reporters that he wanted to "thank and congratulate President Erdoğan," calling the Turkish leader "a friend of mine."

"I’m glad we didn’t have a problem because frankly he’s a hell of a leader, and he’s a tough man," Trump told reporters in Texas. "He’s a strong man, and he did the right thing and I really appreciate it, and I will appreciate it in the future."

Pence said that the United States will “continue to engage” in Syria but added, “not militarily.”

“The President made it clear that we're not going to have military personnel on the ground, but the United States will continue to engage diplomatically, politically and, of course, in humanitarian aid and support to affect all of the people affected in this region,” Pence said.  

Pompeo, who spoke alongside Pence, said there “remains a great deal of work to do in the region ... [but] President Erdoğan’s decision tonight to work alongside President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE to achieve this end will be one that I think will benefit Turkey a great deal.”

Asked how Washington will repair the U.S-Turkey relationship going forward, Pence said the United States will not impose any further sanctions on Turkey and once a permanent cease-fire is in effect, Trump has agreed to withdraw the most recent economic sanctions imposed on Ankara this past Monday.

Questions still remain on whether such a cease-fire agreement will be held up on Turkey’s end after Washington and Ankara earlier this year made a deal for a “Security Mechanism,” which Turkey broke.

In that agreement, the United States had the Kurdish fighters demolish their defensive positions and fortifications and pull back from the border, which they complied with.

Turkey, however, still chose to launch the incursion into Syria.

“Turkey’s had a great concern about their border,” Pence said in defending the move. “While the United States of America did not approve of their military crossing into Syria we have always endorsed a safe zone ... and we believe that the Kurdish population in Syria — with which we have a strong relationship — will continue to endure.” 

He added: “The United States will always be grateful for our partnership with SDF in defeating ISIS but we recognize the importance and value of a safe zone to create a buffer between Syria proper and the Kurdish population and the Turkish border.”

Pence would not say what concessions were made to Turkey in getting them to accept the ceasefire, saying only “I think you’ll be able to see from the agreement itself, what concessions were made.”

He later allowed that the U.S. had only agreed to lift the sanctions and that nothing else was offered or given to the Turks.

Updated at 2:45 p.m.