image Photo: Reuters

U.S. & Turkey agree on ceasefire in Syria

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that following more than five hours of negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria.” Speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the American Vice President noted that the cessation of hostilities would be enforced for a 120-hour period to allow Kurdish YPG forces to withdraw from Ankara’s proclaimed ‘safe zone.’ In his words “The Turkish side will pause operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours. All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal.” The top U.S. official added that “This also includes an agreement by Turkey to engage in no military action against the community of Kobani and in addition, the United States and Turkey have both mutually committed to a peaceful resolution and future for the safe zone working on an international basis, to ensure that peace and security defines this border region of Syria.

The Vice President noted that as part of the “understandings” Washington “will not impose any further sanctions on Turkey and once a permanent ceasefire is in effect the President has agreed to withdraw the economic sanctions that were imposed this last Monday.”

Meanwhile Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu rejected claims of a genuine ceasefire, insisting Washington’s negotiation with Ankara has provided only a temporary “pause” of the Turkish military offensive in Syria. Minister Cavusoglu further emphasized that once the Kurdish militias would retreat from the envisioned territorial safe zone within the 120-hour timeframe, Turkey will resume its offensive. He said, “This is not a ceasefire; ceasefires can be done only between two legitimate sides. We are only pausing the operation to allow the terrorist groups’, which are the targets of the operation, withdrawal from the safe zone.”

With regard to his nation’s operational goals following a prospective pull-out by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the Turkish top diplomat revealed that in accordance with White House instructions for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a telephone discussion between the two leaders was held during which they discussed their respective parameters for future negotiations. “Since yesterday, the (Syrian) regime forces and Russia re-entered the Ayn al-Arab and Kobani so that we will be negotiating Manbij and other zones with Russia. Last night, President (Tayyip Erdogan) had a phone call with the President of Russian Federation, Putin,” Cavusoglu said.

In a briefing that followed the phone conversation between Erdogan and Putin, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced that achieving sustainable long-term security for Syria is by transferring all of the country’s territory to its legal government in Damascus, as was agreed upon between the government of President Bashar Assad and the Kurds of northern Syria; saying“We are convinced that the achievement of sustainable, long-term stabilization and security in this region of Syria, inside the country and in the region as a whole, is possible only on the basis of establishing, first of all, its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ultimately, this means transferring all national territories of Syria, including the border with Turkey, to the control of Syria’s legal government. In this regard, we can only welcome the achievement of relevant agreements between Damascus and the Kurds.”

It is important to note that despite the U.S.-brokered cessation of hostilities; clashes persisted in some areas in northeastern Syria between Turkish-backed and Kurdish-led forces. Sources confirmed to TV7 that the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, which was subject to intensive battles over the past week, continues to face both heavy shelling and gun-battles.

Earlier this week in Washington U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham warned that a complete American military withdrawal from Syria would not only undercut Washington’s ‘maximum pressure campaign’ against the Islamic Republic of Iran, but subsequently, it would also endanger the security of the state of Israel. Speaking at the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on “An Examination of US-Iran Policy” questioning Washington’s Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook on the latest developments in Israel’s northern neighbor Graham said “Iran is massing at the borders as I speak. If we withdraw all of our forces and abandon the oil fields, Iran will surely go in and seize the oil fields, and it will undercut the ‘maximum pressure campaign,’ and our friends in Israel will be in a world of hurt.” The U.S. Senator went on to ask, “Do you agree with this – if Iran gets stronger in Syria, it’s to the detriment of Israel?” and Hook replied “Yes.” Graham continued by asking “Do you agree that it is in our national security interest to make sure that we have a partnership in Syria that will contain Iran’s ambitions?” and Hook answered “Yes, that is our strategy.”

Brian Hook, who also serves as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, underscored that the “[Iranian] regime does face a choice, it can act like a country or it can act like a cause. Iran must change its behavior and start to act like a normal nation, or it will watch its economy continue to decline. Our policy is at its core a diplomatic and an economic one. This administration does not seek armed conflict with Iran. We are relying on American pressure and American diplomacy—economic pressure and American diplomacy – to raise the cost on Iran and force meaningful behavior change.”

Hook further noted that the Trump Administration has two major objectives, “One is to deny the regime the revenue that it needs to fund a revolutionary and expansionist foreign policy. The other one is to increase the incentives for Iran to come to the negotiating table.” Nevertheless, despite President Trump’s repeated calls for negotiations, the Islamic Republic “ is continuing to develop missile systems and related-technology solely for export to regional proxies. And, while we were in the JCPOA, Iran increased its support to Hezbollah; helping them produce a greater number of rockets and missiles. This arsenal is then used to target our ally, Israel.”