Oct 17, 2019

Pence announces Turkey has agreed to temporary ceasefire in Syria

Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidency via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence announced from Ankara on Thursday that Turkey has agreed to cease its military operation in northern Syria for 120 hours so that Kurdish forces can withdraw from the area.

The big picture: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously said that he would "never" agree to a ceasefire, after the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria paved the way for Turkey to begin a military assault on U.S-allied Kurdish forces that they view as terrorists.

The breakthrough came after five hours of negotiations between Pence and Erdogan and followed the authorization of sanctions against Turkish officials earlier this week by President Trump.

  • As part of the deal, Pence said that the U.S. would not implement any more sanctions on Turkey and that it would revoke all economic punishments once a permanent ceasefire takes effect.
  • Pence also said Turkey agreed to re-commit to countering ISIS and to cooperate with the U.S. on securing ISIS detainees and guarding prison camps in Syria.
  • After Pence's announcement, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: "This is 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."

What to watch: The Kurds must now leave their territory in 120 hours. Asked by a reporter whether there is a future for Syrian Kurds, Pence said that the agreement today ends immediate violence, which is what Trump sent the U.S. delegation to Ankara do.

Between the lines: The agreement gives Turkey what it wants — the removal of sanctions and support for a "safe zone" free of YPG forces that they view as an extension of the Kurdish Workers' Party, which has carried out an insurgency inside Turkey for decades.

  • Significant harm, however, has already been done. Hundreds of Kurds have been killed, thousands have been displaced, and at least 1,000 ISIS prisoners and supporters have escaped prison camps since Trump's decision to move U.S. troops out of northern Syria.

What they're saying: Trump told reporters Thursday, "It's a great day for the United States, it's a great day for Turkey ... it's a great day for the Kurds. It's really a great day for civilization. ... I just want to thank and congratulate President Erdogan. He's a friend of mine and I'm glad we didn't have a problem because frankly he is a hell of a leader and a tough man, a strong man."

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Why it matters: President Trump has faced scathing criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for Turkey to lead a military offensive against Kurdish forces who allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

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