Turkey has agreed to a five-day ceasefire in northeast Syria to allow for withdrawal of Kurdish forces, US Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday after talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria,” Pence told a news conference after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara.
Pence had flown to Turkey to call for a halt in Turkey’s cross-border military operation, called Operation Peace Spring, under which Turkey has aimed to clear YPG Syrian Kurdish fighters from a 32 km deep “safe zone” along the border.
“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,” Pence said.
“All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal,” he said.
Republican and Democratic senators accused Trump of having betrayed the Kurdish allies who were vital in fighting Daesh militants, of brushing aside the humanitarian costs of Turkey’s invasion and of being outwitted by Ankara.
“The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces,” a joint US-Turkish statement released after the talks said.
US senators who have criticized the Trump administration for failing to prevent the Turkish assault in the first place said they would press ahead with legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey despite the ceasefire announcement.
A Turkish official told Reuters that Ankara got “exactly what we wanted” from the talks with the United States. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described it as a pause, solely to allow the Kurdish fighters to withdraw.
Kurdish fighters would be forced to give up their heavy weapons and their positions would be destroyed, Cavusoglu said. He declined to call the agreement a “ceasefire”, saying ceasefires could be agreed only by legitimate sides, and not by a Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group.
“When the terrorist elements completely leave the safe zone, we can stop the operation,” Cavusoglu said.
Washington and Ankara will cooperate to handle Daesh fighters and their families held in prisons and camps, the joint statement said, addressing concerns that the militant group might reconstitute and again attack Western targets.
The Turkish assault began on Oct. 9 after Trump moved US troops out of the way after an Oct. 6 phone call with Erdogan. Trump announced sanctions on Turkey on Monday, after the assault began, but critics said these were too little, too late.