Pompeo to meet Netanyahu in bid to reassure Israel on Syria pullout

Secretary of state due on Friday after talks in Ankara aimed at achieving ceasefire in Turkish invasion of northern Syria; discussions to also focus on Iran

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, as they depart en route to Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, as they depart en route to Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel on Friday for talks on Syria following the pullout of American soldiers and Turkey’s launching of a military offensive against Kurdish fighters.

Pompeo will travel to Israel after visiting Turkey with Vice President Mike Pence, the State Department announced late Wednesday.

Pompeo will meet “Netanyahu to discuss developments in Syria and the continued need to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region,” the statement said.

Pence and  Pompeo departed for Turkey on Wednesday, seeking to secure a ceasefire in the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. “Our mission set is to see if we can get a ceasefire, see if we can get this brokered,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

Pence and Pompeo, who traveled on different planes, were scheduled to hold talks on Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but it is not clear if Erdogan will meet them.

Erdogan has also vowed that Turkey’s operation — which was facilitated by the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria — would continue.

US President Donald Trump, facing with mounting criticism over the abrupt pullout, has denied he gave Erdogan a “green light” to launch operations against the Kurds.

Pence’s office said the US would pursue “punishing economic sanctions” unless there was an immediate ceasefire.

After the trip to Turkey, Pompeo will stop in Jerusalem on Friday to meet with  Netanyahu.

The Trump administration last year pulled out of a multinational deal on curbing Tehran’s nuclear program and instead slapped punishing sanctions.

Later Friday, Pompeo will also meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, the statement said.

Trump last week announced the immediate pullout of American forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the way for Turkey’s subsequent incursion into the area.

Israeli officials, among them Netanyahu, have condemned Turkey’s military operation and voiced support for the Kurds, but have not criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather outside the border town of Ras al-Ain on October 12, 2019, during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (Nazeer Al-Khatib/AFP)

The US pullout has raised concerns of a reemergence of the Islamic State jihadist group, which US-backed Kurdish fighters fought and retook areas of Syria from, as well as the expansion of Syrian regime backers’ Russia and Iran’s influence in the country.

Israel has warned against Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria that could be used to attack the Jewish state and carried out hundreds of airstrikes there in recent years on Iran-linked targets.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an ally of Trump, has said the pullout could “ensure Iran’s domination of Syria” and “become a nightmare for Israel,” a sentiment echoed at Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Despite international condemnation over the offensive, Erdogan has remained defiant and said the operation won’t cease until the Kurdish fighters give up their arms.

Turkey considers the YPG, a Kurdish militia, a terror group over its ties to the Turkish PKK group, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. Netanyahu said in 2017 that Israel considers the PKK a terrorist organization.

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