U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara today, as part of Washington’s efforts to mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian democratic forces with the aim of immediately ending hostilities in northern Syria.
While speaking to reporters at the White House hours before his representatives’ departure for Turkey, President Trump voiced hope that the meeting will bear fruit. “We have two countries that are going to argue over their border, hopefully they’ll work it out, they’re going to try and work it out,” he said, adding, “ I think our Vice President is a very capable man, will do well.”
Standing alongside visiting-Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Trump went on to point out that “President Erdogan said he wouldn’t meet with anybody and he took that back just a little while ago and he said ‘No, I will;’ and I think they’ll have a successful meeting. If they don’t, the sanctions and tariffs and other things that we’re doing, we will do and are doing to Turkey will be devastating to Turkey’s economy.” Even though he went on to refer to Russia’s military deployment in Kurdish-controlled areas as “a good thing,” Trump underscored that the war between Syria and Turkey does not concern the United States. “Frankly,” said the U.S. President, “if Russia’s going to help in protecting the Kurds, that’s a good thing not a bad thing – but it would be led by Syria, and Syria doesn’t want Turkey to take its land – I can understand that.” He then rhetorically asked “But what does that have to do with the United States of America if their fighting over Syria’s land? Are we supposed to fight a NATO member in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land?” before replying, “I don’t think so.”
With regard to his administration’s recent decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria, President Trump continues to deny his critics claims that greenlighted Ankara’s launching of a military operation. In a letter the U.S. President sent to his Turkish-counterpart on the 9th of October, Trump urged Erdogan to pursue a peaceful solution to the Turkish-Kurdish animosity. The American leader further cautioned the Turkish President not to be “a tough guy,” or “a fool,” or the United States would destroy the Turkish economy.
It is important to note that while the United States officially withdrew militarily from northern Syria, U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul (R, Texas) revealed that a residual force will remain in the war-torn Arab Republic to preserve America’s interests. While speaking outside the White House after a meeting with President Trump, the Republican Congressman from Texas said that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “is the one who made the recommendation to start moving our troops away from harm’s way,” adding “but most importantly, to have a residual force in Syria to protect the homeland.” He then stated that he was “given that assurance today, that we are not withdrawing completely from Syria,” repeating that the U.S. “will have a residual force of special operators to first and foremost, protect the homeland.”
President Trump’s strong-worded letter and repeated threat of sanctions persuade undermine President Erdogan’s resolve to complete the goals of his country’s military operation. In an address to his ruling AK party, Erdogan underscored that Ankara’s “Peace Spring” offensive will last until all of its objectives have been attained. “Operation Peace Spring will last until we go down to 30-35 km, along the line from Manbij to the Iraqi border, as we have previously declared,” stressed Erdogan, stressing “There is no doubt or hesitation about this, we have no open doors on this matter.”
The Turkish leader further underscored that the only viable option to bring a swift end to the hostilities would be the removal of all those he referred to as “terrorists” from his envisioned safe zone, equivalent to nearly 22 miles deep into Syrian territory. “Our proposal to solve the issue in Syria in the quickest way for all terrorists to drop their weapons, destroy their traps and withdraw outside of the safe zone we determined by tonight,” said Erdogan.
Following his speech, President Erdogan told reporters that Ankara is not concerned about entering the Syrian city of Manbij after the Russian army and forces loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad enter the area. The Turkish leader insisted that so long as the Kurdish organizations have been cleared from the area, his country does not mind the presence of Syrian and Russian militaries, which he plans to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month. Furthermore, President Erdogan questioned the legitimacy of reports regarding a deal struck between the Kurds and the Assad regime. “I do not want to presume that the (Syrian) regime has a deal with SDF,” said Erdogan. “We have a deal for this area. When I meet with Putin, we will show him the maps in Turkish and Russian. However, we are not specifically concerned about being in Manbij,” he emphasized, before going on to say, “We have only one concern and that is to remove the terrorist YPG and PYD organizations from there, either by Russia or the regime.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized that Ankara and Damascus need to form a cooperation-mechanism between their respective forces in northern Syria based on the Adana Accord security pact the two countries formulated in 1998. In remarks during a forum in the southern city of Sochi, the country’s top diplomat further stressed that Moscow is prepared to help facilitate Syria’s cooperation with Turkey. With regard to the deal between Damascus and the Kurds, Minister Lavrov asserted that the Russian-brokered agreement has been yielding concrete results.
Despite the Russian call for improved coordination between Ankara and Damascus, the Syrian Army is deploying additional troops to the country’s war-stricken north. A Kurdish television network published a video purporting to show Syrian troops gathered around buses on a strategic road that connects the cities of Manbij and Kobani. According to a low-ranking field commander, the stationing of the soldiers is specifically intended to counter the Turkish offensive. The Reuters news agency cited Syrian Army First Lt. Hussam as saying, “Our mission is to protect our land from the Turkish occupier. Right now, in Ain Al Arabi (Kobani), we came to this area to stand with the residents – to protect the women, the children, the men and everyone from the Turkish criminals, who have no humanity, no morals, nothing.”
Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State is scheduled to make a stop in Israel for talks on the latest developments in Syria. Late last night the U.S. State department announced that the top American diplomat will meet with Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin “to discuss developments in Syria and the continued need to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region.” The Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to TV7’s request for its comment.