Pence, Pompeo arrive in Turkey to push Syria cease-fire; Trump says its not our problem
The House condemned Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria because now Turkey is attacking Kurds, who have been our allies against ISIS.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Turkey on Thursday on a rescue mission – to salvage American interests in Syria amid an increasingly chaotic geopolitical conflict and a fierce domestic bipartisan backlash.
Pence and Pompeo are tasked with securing a cease-fire agreement from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose forces have invaded northeastern Syria to attack the Kurds.
Turkey’s incursion, which began shortly after Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, has unleashed a free-for-all inside that corner of Syria, with Russia, Iran and other powers vying for influence.
“Our mission set is to see if we can get a cease fire, see if we can get this brokered,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday, before boarding a plane to Ankara.
But Erdogan has already rebuffed Trump’s demand for a halt to the Turkish attack, shrugging off the White House’s threats of crippling economic sanctions and saying he had no plans to pull back. Turkey views the Kurdish fighters – who helped U.S. forces battle the Islamic State – as terrorists because of their affiliation with an offshoot group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK.
Trump has almost seemed to echo Turkish talking points in recent days.
Last week, Trump called the PKK “more of a terrorist threat” than the Islamic State. And on Wednesday, he said the Kurds are “not angels.”
Trump also seemed to distance himself from the crisis in Syria, even as he dispatched Pence and Pompeo to solve it.
“It’s not our problem,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Hours later, the House overwhelming passed a bipartisan resolution condemning Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which critics said gave Erdogan a green light to invade territory held by the U.S.-allied Kurds. Trump’s comments only seemed to further fuel the bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill to his troop withdrawal decision.
“What the president said today is just outrageously dangerous,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “It undercuts Pence and Pompeo. And I don’t agree with his construct that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is of no concern.”
Trump warned Erdogan “don’t be a tough guy” in a letter to his counterpart before Ankara launched a deadly incursion in northern Syria.
The Oct. 9 letter was confirmed by a senior administration official. “Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will,” Trump wrote.
BBC Turkey reported Thursday that when Erdogan received Trump’s letter he scrunched it up and threw it in the trash. He then launched Turkey’s offensive against Syria’s Kurds. Erdogan’s office did not return a request for confirmation of the incident.
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