President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced what he called a longterm cease-fire between Turkish and Kurdish forces, saying he would lift economic sanctions he slapped on Ankara after its invasion of northern Syria.
Trump said a temporary cease-fire there “has held held, and held well,” adding it is “permanent.” He noted not much in the chaotic region can truly be, before adding: “I think it will be permanent.” Of the U.S. operation there, he said, “Now, we are getting out.”
The “America first” president hailed the creation of so-called “safe zones” in northern Syria that the Obama administration long opposed. But he made clear they are not yet free of fighting and danger.
“Hopefully that zone will become safe,” he said, then doubling down on his years-old opposition to U.S. military conflicts in the Middle East.
“Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” he said.
The commander in chief drew harsh criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers earlier this month when he announced he would remove a U.S. military contingency from northern Syria that had been serving as a buffer between the longtime enemies. Those same American troops had essentially been all that was preventing Turkey’s government from wiping out the Syrian Kurds, some of which Ankara calls terrorists hellbent on attacking Turks.
“We want other countries to get involved” and “help” inside Syria, he said, even as some top Republicans have slammed him for allowing Russia to take on a larger foothold.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer criticized Trump’s decision to lift the sanctions imposed just last week after Ankara agreed Tuesday to extend a ceasefire in northern Syria.
“It’s hurt our national security, it’s hurt the Kurds and it’s hurt the geopolitics on the Turkish-Syrian border,” the New York Democrat said as he escorted former U.S. special envoy for combating the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, into a luncheon meeting with Senate Democrats.
Trump spoke a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan announced a deal that will replace the removed U.S. troops with Russian military police and Syrian forces. The idea is to assuage Turkish fears about Kurdish YPG being positioned on their southern border — it considers that group a terrorist organization — while also addressing the Kurds’ concerns about Turkish-supported forces inside Syria might attack them.
Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez was also withering in his assessment of the president’s actions.
“It is inconceivable that a self-described ‘deal-maker’ would lift sanctions on Turkey without any kind of concrete commitments that their ceasefire will be permanent,” the New Jersey Democrat said in a statement.
Menendez noted Iraq has warned that U.S. troops relocated to the country from northern Syria will only be able to stay for a month, calling into question their ability of carry out counter-ISIS operations in the region. The administration has also said it does not yet have a clear accounting of how many ISIS fighters escaped detention during the weeks of fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces.
The president’s remarks came a few hours after a notably upbeat tweet about the situation in Syria in which he dubbed his decision and a subsequent deal between Turkish, Russian, Syrian and Kurdish leaders a “Big success.”
“Safe Zone created! Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended. Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us. Captured ISIS prisoners secured,” the president tweeted.
Trump’s remarks likely will do little to appease concerned lawmakers, including some senior Republican members. Among them are House Armed Services ranking member Mac Thornberry and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Thornberry just returned from the region to talk about the situation with Jordan’s leaders and others on a trip organized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
McConnell raised eyebrows when he penned a Washington Post op-ed, without naming Trump, branded the Syria pullout a “grave strategic mistake.”
“As neo-isolationism rears its head on both the left and the right, we can expect to hear more talk of ‘endless wars.’ But rhetoric cannot change the fact that wars do not just end; wars are won or lost,” McConnell wrote in a rebuke to Trump, who uses that phrase often. “America’s wars will be ‘endless’ only if America refuses to win them.”
Of calls for him to deploy “thousands” of additional American troops to end the Turkish invasion and operation. “I don’t think so,” Trump said of some calling on him to deploy “thousands” of additional American troops to end the Turkish invasion and operation.
“They just talk. How many Americans must die in the Middle East?” he said, criticizing those who call for more U.S. military involvement there.
Eager to take credit for the ceasefire and deal and even while essentially doing so, Trump said “it is too early for me to be congratulated.”
Trump, using rhetoric straight from his 2016 presidential campaign, called the Middle East “less secure” than before America’s post-9/11 conflicts there.
Trump, all but wagged hiw finger at fellow Republicans over military interventionism, saying he might meet one-on-one with Erdogan soon. He did not specify a time or place.
Trump said the Turkey sanctions would be removed “unless something happens that we’re not happy with.” He made clear he wants most of the credit, even though Putin and Erdogan brokered the deal: “This was an outcome created by us — the United States — and nobody else, no other nation.”
While he had vowed to pull out all American forces, Trump on Wednesday said some will remain to secure oil fields from ISIS fighters.
“We’re going to be protecting it, and we will be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future,” he said. “The nations in the region must ultimately take on the responsibility of helping Turkey and Syria police their border.”
Trump was essentially taking a victory lap with his midday remarks after being rebuked by his own party for saying the Turks and Kurds were like small children, who sometimes must be allowed to have a fistfight every once in a while.
Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.