Washington: Ten days after President Donald Trump created the biggest foreign policy crisis of his tenure, precipitously pulling U.S. troops out of Syria and exposing allies to attack, he secured a temporary deal that handed Turkey’s president a victory he’d been seeking for years.
In a hastily arranged one-day trip to Ankara, Vice President Mike Pence announced an agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s to halt an offensive in northern Syria that saw Kurdish fighters come under bombardment after years of working alongside the U.S. to defeat Daesh.
But doubts about the significance of the deal emerged immediately.
Is it really a ceasefire?
Kurdish leaders said that while they welcomed a pause in hostilities, they wouldn’t abide by Turkish occupation in northern Syria.
And key Republican lawmakers savaged it as backpedaling following a rash decision to pull American forces out in the first place without a plan to deal with Daesh or the vacuum left behind.
“It’s not a ceasefire,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said the agreement tells the Kurds that “You have one hundred and x number of hours to get out of here before we kill you.”
How does Erdogan come out of this?
The deal - a five-day military pause that could be extended - also hands Erdogan a huge political win by enshrining his control of a 20-mile “safe zone” in northern Syria, demanding the retreat of Kurdish fighters his government considers terrorists and securing a promise that U.S. sanctions will be withdrawn.
The accord closely resembles what Erdogan proposed a day earlier, when he said Turkey would end its operation only after Kurdish militants withdraw from the secure zone Ankara wants to create. Syria and Russia have long opposed any permanent role for Turkey in northern Syria.
As part of the agreement, Pence said no additional U.S. sanctions would be imposed on Turkey. The lira jumped to a one-month high on the news.
Trump proclaimed the agreement a “great day for civilization,” hailing his own “unconventional” approach.
“Everyone can spin it as they need to - the Trump administration can say that their sanctions and the threat of ‘economic devastation’ worked to secure a cease-fire agreement,” said Dana Stroul, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Erdogan will claim that the Turkish incursion compelled the United States to get the YPG to disarm, remove fortifications, and redeploy from northeastern Syria - Turkey’s long-standing requests.”