Pence: US and Turkey Agree to Ceasefire in Syria

Vice President Mike Pence meets Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, for talks on the Kurds and Syria. (AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin)

(CN) – The United States and Turkey announced a five-day ceasefire Thursday in the invasion of Syria by Turkish forces that has resulted in the slaughter of Kurdish fighters.

Vice President Mike Pence announced the agreement after he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kurdish fighters, who have been left to fend for themselves after the U.S. withdrew from the region earlier this week, will have 120 hours to flee northeast Syria.

Erdogan initially refused calls for a ceasefire as Turkish forces advanced on the region, but Pence noted a “strong relationship” between the two nations. Pence said the pause in military operations will provide Kurdish-led Y.P.G. militia to leave the region.

“Once that is completed, Turkey has agreed to a permanent ceasefire,” Pence said.

However, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu disputed Pence’s assertion the ceasefire will be permanent.

“We will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists to leave,” Cavusoglu said in a televised news conference. “We will only stop the operation if our conditions are met.”

He added a “safe zone” approximately 20 miles east of the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border will need to be established in the meantime.

According to Pence, the U.S. agreed it will not impose any further sanctions on Turkey and economic sanctions placed last week will be removed during the permanent cease-fire.

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the region drew sharp criticism from within the United States and abroad. Kurdish fighters have fought alongside American troops in the effort to eradicate the Islamic State since 2014.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an overwhelming denunciation of the withdrawal on Wednesday, 354-60. The matter boiled over into a White House briefing later that day during which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats walked out after Trump reportedly launched into a diatribe.

Trump claims the U.S. has no business in Syria and dismissed concerns about the danger Kurdish fighters have been put in with his decision.

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

Also on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel again called on Turkey to stop its military offensive in Syria, telling lawmakers in Berlin that the offensive “makes tens of thousands, among them thousands of children, flee.”

Mazloum Abdi, commander of the Kurdish-led forces, said Trump approved a deal struck between Russia and the Syrian government in Damascus to protect against a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria.

“We told (Trump) that we are contacting the Syrian regime and the Russians in order to protect our country and land,” Abdi told local TV station Ronahi TV. “He said, ‘We are not against that. We support that.’”

Trump took to his favorite soapbox ahead of the ceasefire announcement and wrote on Twitter, “Great news out of Turkey.” He thanked Erdogan and added, “Millions of lives will be saved!”

A Hill-HarrisX poll out Thursday indicates – as many polls do these days – registered voters in America are split on the withdrawal, with 33% in favor and 37% opposed. Just over half of Republicans back Trump’s decision, compared to 21% of Democrats and 27% of independents.

Perhaps more telling: 30% don’t know what to think about the move.

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