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Senators vow to press Turkey sanctions bills despite Pence cease-fire announcement

Senators vow to press Turkey sanctions bills despite Pence cease-fire announcement
© Greg Nash

Senators are vowing to move forward with sanctions legislation against Turkey despite Vice President Pence’s announcement that Ankara has agreed to a cease-fire in Syria.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSpokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome Former Graham challenger Jaime Harrison launches political action committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE (R-S.C.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischGOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Risch wins reelection in Idaho MORE (R-Idaho), who have each released separate sanctions bills, both said they would continue working on their bills despite the cease-fire.

“We’re going to keep working,” Graham said in response to questions about his legislative efforts.

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On his bill, Risch said, “we’re going to keep putting one foot in front of the other to move the bill.”

“There are other issues obviously than just a cease-fire that need to be addressed,” added Risch, saying other issues include security of ISIS prisoners and safety of the Kurds. “This bill will encourage those parties to embrace not only a cease-fire, but an overall settlement in the dispute there.”

At a news conference in Ankara following more than five hours of negotiation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Pence said Erdoğan agreed to halt Turkey’s offensive in Syria for 120 hours in order to allow Kurdish forces known as the YPG to evacuate. The agreement will also maintain a “permanent cease-fire” once the evacuation is complete.

In exchange, President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE will lift the sanctions on Turkey he imposed this week and not impose further sanctions, Pence said.

Turkey launched an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces last week following Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, a move widely seen as giving a green light for Erdoğan to proceed with the long-threatened invasion.

Trump’s decision has been condemned across the political spectrum as abandoning the Kurds, who were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS. Lawmakers have been scrambling to react, including introducing several sanctions bills.

Graham’s bill, introduced with Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers MORE (D-Md.) would target Turkey's energy sector and military as well as assets of top Turkish officials within U.S. jurisdiction and limit their ability to travel to the United States. It would also require a strategy to prevent an ISIS resurgence and prohibit arms sales to Turkey.

Risch’s bill, introduced with his committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (N.J.), would require a comprehensive counter-ISIS strategy, mandate a report on potential Turkish war crimes, restrict arms sale to Turkey, sanction senior Turkish officials and require a report on Turkey’s participation in NATO, among other things.

While both Risch and Graham said they would continue working on their bills, they said the cease-fire was a positive development.

“I think every American should be happy about that. I think everyone in the world should be happy with that,” Risch said. “This is not a development that anyone should call a bad development. It’s a development that people should say is a good development. Is it perfect? Probably not, like every other development. But having said that, let’s let this play out a bit and see what happens.”

Graham said Pence called him to report a “breakthrough” in negotiations.

“I told [Pence] to consider the Congress the cavalry here. We’re ready to come and hit Turkey hard if they don’t get out of Syria and reset the table,” Graham said.

“I don’t know the details,” Graham added. “I don’t trust Erdoğan. I’m going to continue to get co-sponsors, but this sounds positive. We’re going to keep working.”

Other senators, though, were less enthusiastic about the cease-fire agreement.

“From what I understand, it’s not a cease-fire,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio signals opposition to Biden Cabinet picks Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Fla.), who said he thinks Risch and Menendez’s bill is the best way forward. “It is, ‘you have a hundred and X number of hours to get out of here before we kill you.’ … Other than giving Kurds a chance to leave so they don’t get slaughtered, it doesn’t sound like it changes any of the other dynamics.”