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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Trump faces chaos, backlash on Syria as Turkey rebuffs ceasefire

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that he will not meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when the two senior officials arrive in Turkey on Thursday to urge a ceasefire in Syria. 
Erdogan said he'd meet with President Donald Trump, who is not traveling to Turkey. 

Pence and Pompeo leave for Ankara on Wednesday afternoon. News of Erdogan's refusal to meet with them was first reported by Sky News, a British broadcaster.
Earlier, Erdogan rejected Trump's request in a phone conversation to call a halt to Turkish military operations in northeastern Syria. Turkey's leader said he will not negotiate with Kurdish forces his government is trying to push out of the area. 
"They say 'declare a ceasefire.' We will never declare a ceasefire," Erdogan told reporters on flight back from Baku late on Tuesday where he attended a regional business summit in Azerbaijan's capital. 
In an address to Turkey's Parliament on Wednesday, Erdogan said that Turkey's military offensive would end if Syrian Kurdish fighters left a border area in northeast Syria, according to the country's official Anadolu news agency
The Trump administration is scrambling to contain the escalating domestic and international fallout from President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, a move that paved the way for Turkey's assault on Syrian Kurdish fighters who it considers to be terrorists. U.S.-led coalition forces have for the last several years successfully partnered with Syrian Kurds to fight the Islamic State group. 
Lawmakers in Congress, back from a two-week recess, lashed out at Trump's decision and laid the groundwork for a legislative crackdown Wednesday on Turkey that would go beyond the White House's move to sanction Turkey over its military invasion. 
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., derided Trump's sanctions on Turkey as a "wet noodle" and said she would push a bipartisan resolution rebuking the president's withdrawal, which she and others have portrayed as a betrayal of Kurdish fighters who helped the U.S. battle Islamic State terrorists in Syria. 
"The president gave the green light to Turkey to go in and commit this humanitarian disaster unto the Kurds, making us an untrustworthy ally," Pelosi told reporters Tuesday. "And then had a wet noodle for his sanctions, which just were not up to the task."
Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, warned that "leaving the field now" would allow the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, to make a comeback and create a vacuum in Syria for Iran and Russia to fill. 
Over the last few years Syria's Kurds have carved out a semi-autonomous state on territory that once belonged to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. While Syria's Kurds are considered to be some of the region's bravest and most able military fighters they have recognized they are ultimately no match for Turkey's far larger and better equipped military. After Trump announced the U.S. troop withdrawal, Kurdish leaders entered into an agreement with Assad to try to stem Turkey's advance. Assad's forces, in turn, are backed by Russia's military, an alliance that has enabled him to slowly turn the tide of Syria's nearly decade long civil war in his favor. 
As Russia has moved to fill the void left by the U.S. withdrawal from the conflict, French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian said in an interview on French television channel BFM Wednesday that France is now looking to Russia for help, given their "common interests" in defeating ISIS in Syria. France and a number of other countries have also banned weapons sales to Turkey. The U.S. is still selling arms to Turkey. 
Trump has invited Pelosi and McConnell, along with other congressional leaders, to the White House Wednesday afternoon for a meeting on the crisis. 
Pence and Pompeo are expected to press Turkey to enact a ceasefire. A senior Trump administration official declined to detail the U.S. delegation's schedule in Turkey, but said U.S. officials would use the threat of additional U.S. sanctions as leverage to pressure Erdogan to stop his military's advance into northeastern Syria.
But the Turkish leader has signaled no interest in a cease fire and apparently little fear of U.S. sanctions, partly because Russia's military presence makes it the de facto power broker in the conflict. Erdogan said the offensive would continue until Turkey achieves its aims completely, which is to create a "safe zone" between Turkey and Syria that acts as a buffer area to Syria's Kurds. The "safe zone" would also enable Turkey to resettle several million Syrian refugees currently living on its territory in volatile border areas.
Erdogan has shrugged off the threat of additional U.S. sanctions. 
"They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions," Erdogan said on his way back from Azerbaijan, according to comments first reported by the Reuters news agency.

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