The two top Democrats in Congress on Thursday bashed a five-day truce that the US brokered with Turkey to halt violence on the Syrian border.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the agreement was a “sham ceasefire” that showed that US President Donald Trump is “flailing.”
The US, Turkey and Kurdish forces agreed Thursday to the deal to stop the Turks’ attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria and allow the Kurds to withdraw to roughly 20 miles away from the Turkish border. The arrangement appeared to be a significant embrace of Turkey’s position in the week-long conflict.
After more than four hours of negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, US Vice President Mike Pence said the purpose of his high-level mission was to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey’s invasion of Syria, and remained silent on whether the agreement amounted to another abandonment of the US’s former Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American forces from the area.
Pelosi and Schumer said Turkey had surrendered nothing while Trump had given Erdogan “everything.”
They said the deal damages American credibility and leaves thousands of Islamic State prisoners in the hands of Turkey and Syria’s government, which they said represents a security threat to the US.
Pelosi and Schumer said the US and its allies “deserve smart, strong and sane leadership from Washington.”
“President Trump unleashed a further escalation of chaos and insecurity in Syria that has left dozens of innocent civilians dead, displaced hundreds of thousands more and invited the resurgence of ISIS. The only beneficiaries of the President’s policies are our adversaries: ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and Iran,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.
Next week the House will pass a sanctions package to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of the US withdrawal, the statement read.
Some Republicans also criticized the truce.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney said Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish allies in Syria “will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”
The Utah senator took to the Senate floor Thursday to criticize Trump.
“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory,” Romney argued.
He said removing US troops who protected the Kurds “violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor.”
Romney said he hopes the truce works but that a deal with Turkey should have been struck before the US pulled its troops out, not afterward.
Republican senator Marco Rubio similarly criticized the cease-fire, saying: “Other than giving Kurds a chance to leave so they don’t get slaughtered, it doesn’t sound like a change of any of the other dynamics I’m concerned about.”
Brett McGurk, the former civilian head of the administration’s US-led counter-IS campaign, wrote on Twitter that Thursday’s deal was a gift to the Turks.
“The US just ratified Turkey’s plan to effectively extend its border 30km into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground,” he wrote, adding that the arrangement was “non-implementable.”
Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded Thursday’s deal as a significant achievement, and Trump tweeted that it was “a great day for civilization.” But the agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation in the first place. After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent ceasefire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops.
In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions the administration had imposed and threatened to impose since the invasion began, meaning there will be no penalty for the operation.
During the five-day ceasefire, the United States “will not be implementing additional sanctions,” Pence told reporters.
“Once we have a permanent ceasefire, following the orderly withdrawal of all YPG forces, the United States also agreed to withdraw the sanctions that were imposed on several cabinet officials and several agencies,” Pence said, referring to Kurdish forces in Syria.
Trump was ebullient after the agreement was announced, tweeting that “Millions of lives will be saved!” and asserting that “People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years.”
He credited his threat of sanctions on Turkey as “tough love” that led the country to agree to a five-day ceasefire in its battle with Kurds in northern Syria.
Talking to reporters in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday, Trump said the Kurds are happy with the deal.
He added that he was open to hosting the Turkish leader in Washington.
Speaking to reporters, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed suspension of the offensive, but rejected the notion that the agreement constituted a ceasefire.
“We are suspending the operation, not halting it,” he said. “We will halt the operation only after [Kurdish militants] completely withdraw from the region.”
“This is not a ceasefire. A ceasefire is reached between the two legitimate parties,” he said.
Ankara has long argued that the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the US and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said they are willing to abide by the agreement.
“We are ready to abide by the ceasefire,” covering the area from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad, SDF chief Mazlum Abdi told a Kurdish TV station.
Trump’s withdrawal of US troops has been widely condemned, including by Republican officials not directly associated with his administration.
Republicans and Democrats in the House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together Wednesday for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the US troop withdrawal.
Trump has denied that his action provided a “green light” for Turkey to move against the longtime US battlefield partners, or that he was opening the way for a revival of the Islamic State group and raising worldwide doubts about US faithfulness to its allies.
While Erdogan heard global condemnation for his invasion, he also faced renewed nationalistic fervor at home, and any pathway to de-escalation likely needed to avoid embarrassing him domestically.
Pompeo landed in Israel overnight Thursday-Friday after meeting with Erdogan in Ankara for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aimed at easing Jerusalem’s fears about the US withdrawal.