Mike Pence strikes deal with Turkish president in Ankara that appears to cement key Turkish objectives
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, has agreed with the US vice-president, Mike Pence, to suspend Ankaras operation on Kurdish-led forces in north-east Syria for the next five days in order to allow Kurdish troops to withdraw, potentially halting the latest bloodshed in Syrias long war.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters would pull back from Turkeys proposed 20-mile (32km) deep safe zone on its border, Pence told reporters in Ankara on Thursday evening after hours of meetings with Turkish officials.
It will be a pause for 120 hours while the US oversees the withdrawal of the YPG [a Kurdish unit within the SDF] Once that is completed, Turkey has agreed to a permanent ceasefire, Pence said, adding that preparations were already underway.
Great news out of Turkey! Donald Trump tweeted just before Pence spoke. Millions of lives will be saved.
The arrangement, however, appeared to be a significant US embrace of Turkeys position in the weeklong conflict, and did not publicly define the safe zones borders.
General Mazloum Kobane of the SDF confirmed the ceasefire deal in comments to local television on Thursday night, but said it only applied to the area between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, both of which have seen heavy fighting.
Damascus and Moscow, who have since also moved troops into the contested border zone, also had no immediate comment. Erdoan is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi on Tuesday, where it is expected more concrete talks on the size of Turkeys planned buffer zone will take place.
The initial plan was met with scepticism by many Syrian Kurds on Thursday night, as it gives the Turks what they had sought to achieve with the military operation in the first place: removal of Kurdish-led forces from the border.
When asked, Pence remained silent on whether the agreement amounted to a second abandonment of the USs former Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
A statement released after the meeting reiterated the US understanding of Turkeys need for a safe zone which will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces after the Kurdish withdrawal, implying that Ankara still intends to occupy the 270m (440km) stretch of land, which includes several important Kurdish towns and parts of a major highway.
It also made no mention of the presence of Syrian government and Russian troops, who were invited to the area by the SDF to help defend against the Turkish attack, and are not bound by the terms of the US-Turkish agreement.
Our people did not want this war. We welcome the ceasefire, but we will defend ourselves in the event of any attack Ceasefire is one thing and surrender is another thing, and we are ready to defend ourselves. We will not accept the occupation of northern Syria, the Kurdish political leader Saleh Muslim told local television.
Weve previously stated that Turkeys proposal of entering a depth of 30km inside Syrian territories is rejected, Aldar Xelil, another senior political figure, was quoted by local media as saying after news of the Ankara agreement broke.
The deal was a great day for civilisation, Trump told reporters before praising Erdoan as a hell of a leader.
Trump seemed to endorse Turkeys aim of ridding the Syrian side of the border of the Kurdish fighters who fought Isis on behalf of the US but who Ankara regards as proxies for the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) that has waged a 35-year insurgency against the Turkish state. They had to have it cleaned out, he told reporters.
But the deal was condemned by Republican senator Mitt Romney, who said Trumps decision to abandon Kurdish allies in Syria will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.
In Ras al-Ayn, one of the two border towns under attack by Turkey, warplanes and drones were still flying overhead and ground fighting between the SDF and Syrian rebels allied to Turkey continued.
The US and Turkey have mutually committed to peaceful resolution and future for the safe zone, Pence said. In return, the US will not impose further sanctions on Turkey and remove those that were imposed last week once the permanent ceasefire takes hold.