As Russian Troops Move Into Syrian Borderland, Trump Claims Ceasefire Success

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks Wednesday in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (CN) – As Russian troops move into the Syrian borderland and shelling of old American bases continues, the president on Wednesday claimed that a “permanent” ceasefire allows him to lift sanctions against Turkey. He has been sailing against the tide of public opinion, with Americans opposed to the U.S. withdrawal from Northern Syria by a 2-1 margin.

“This deal could never have been made without this short-term outburst,” Trump said of the death toll that has mounted since Turkey began its assault on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Trump also warned, however, that a failure to keep the peace will lead to “crippling sanctions including steel and all other products out of Turkey.”

“This was an outcome created by us, the United States and nobody else,” Trump said. “We’re willing to take blame and also take credit.” 

Trump did not mention the ceasefire deal released this morning by Russia and Turkey.

According to overnight press reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan Tuesday and revealed a 10-point memorandum of understanding that aims to maintain the “status quo” in the region.  

The U.S. is not part of that new deal. 

That deal maintains a 75-mile safe zone between the two countries and asks the Kurds to pull back to certain cities in Syria. It also places them under the protection of the Russians. Trump mentioned this 75-mile save zone during his speech but maintained the U.S. deserved credit.

Trump said he had done both Syria and Turkey a “great service” but now “we’re getting out.” 

“We were supposed to be there for 30 days, 10 years ago, but we stayed for 10 years,” he said, without specifically noting the chaos that ensued when U.S. troops withdrew this month.

Instead Trump stressed no American lives were lost. Media reports have put the death toll from the Turkish incursion at around 20.

“Let someone else fight for this blood-stained sand,” Trump said, going on to stress that SDF Kurdish leaders thanked him “for what the U.S. had done” and assured him that the Islamic State fighters are under lock and key. 

 “There were a few that got out, but they have been largely recaptured,” he said. 

The announcement comes about a week after Vice President Mike Pence and Erdoğan nailed out a ceasefire deal that gave Kurdish citizens living along the border with Syria five days to leave the area before Turkey stepped in and removed them.

There was evidence of continued shelling despite the deal, including alleged “bracketing,” or targeting their weapons, by Turkish forces against American military sites.

Turkey has long been fighting with the Kurdish minority group for their connection to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by many international powers. Against this backdrop, however, Kurdish fighters have served as an ally to the United States in the fight against the Islamic State group. In the days following the U.S. military pullout of the region meanwhile, between 100 and 1,000 former Islamic State supporters reportedly escaped a detention camp in Ain Eissa.

Trump had announced the pullout of American troops from the region after a phone call with Erdoğan, tweeting that the “endless wars must end.”

Though the president also promised to bring U.S. troops stationed in the region home, they’ve since been diverted to Saudi Arabia, with plans to arrive in Iraq next, if agreed upon by leaders there. The plan has also been revised to keep some troops in the region as well, though how they will be impacted by the Turkey-Russia deal is yet to be seen.

“I view the situation on the Turkish border with Syria to be, for the United States, strategically brilliant,” Trump said at a press briefing held last week. “Our soldiers are out of there, they’re totally safe. They’ve got to work it out. Maybe they can do it without fighting.”

In addition to ending U.S. sanctions against Turkey — something Erdoğan claimed had no deterrent effect — the deal opens the door for the Kurds to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, having already agreed to support the Kurds against “Turkish aggression.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham had been among Trump’s staunchest critics during the start of the Kurdish ordeal, originally saying Trump “appears to be hell-bent on making the same mistakes in Syria as President Obama made in Iraq.”

Now, with the prospect of Russia and Turkey brokering peace for Kurds in Syria, while securing oil revenue for the Kurds, Graham says he’s “impressed” with Trump’s plan.

“A plan to keep ISIS down and out forever, and a chance to keep the oil fields in the hands of our allies, not our enemies, would be a hell of an outcome, and I think that’s now possible,” Graham told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on Sunday.

While Graham might support the president’s new effort, the public is less optimistic. According to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released Wednesday, only 30%  of the public supported Trump’s pullout from the region with 60% disapproving. Trump’s overall handling of foreign policy, according to the poll, has only 35% support among the public.

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