AFP — Thursday’s announcement of a pause in Turkey’s deadly offensive in northern Syria appeared to ease unprecedented pressure on US President Donald Trump from fellow Republicans in Congress, even if the threat of sanctions against Ankara loomed large.
Trump has endured an onslaught of congressional condemnation for his sudden withdrawal of US forces from Syria, a move that critics say effectively greenlighted Turkey’s invasion and assault on Kurdish forces, who have been US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Senator Lindsey Graham has been one of the staunchest defenders of Trump in his fight against impeachment.
But he bitterly broke with him over Syria policy, and stood with Democratic colleagues Thursday as they unveiled wide-ranging, mandatory sanctions against Turkey in a sign of the bipartisan fury sparked by the president’s abrupt move.
Minutes after Graham explained the sanctions to reporters and urged Trump to use the weight of his office to halt Turkey’s incursion, a deal was announced that saw Turkey agree to suspend its Syria offensive for five days and end the assault if Kurdish-led forces withdraw from a safe zone away from the border.
Graham then toned down his rhetoric.
“Sounds like we may have made real progress regarding a ceasefire and hopefully sustainable solutions to prevent the reemergence of ISIS, the abandonment of our ally, the Kurds, and other strategic interests,” Graham said in a statement.
But to reporters he stressed that he does not trust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that “we’re going to keep working” to get the sanctions bill to the Senate floor.
Graham’s measure was presented in the Republican-majority Senate a day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly condemned the US troop withdrawal, rebuking the White House in a rare show of cross-party unity.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Republican Jim Risch, also unveiled legislation Thursday that would punish the Turks and provide humanitarian assistance to Kurds.
But he praised the ceasefire, telling reporters that “any time you can broker a disengagement it’s a good thing.”
“Is it perfect? Probably not,” he added. “Let’s let this play out a bit and see what happens.”
Trump, hailing the ceasefire, swatted away any rebukes from Congress or threats of new sanctions.
“I didn’t need Congress for sanctions because I can do sanctions that are tougher than Congress. And I was prepared to do that.”
Trump this week slapped sanctions on top Turkish officials and imposed punitive tariffs on Turkish imports, vowing to “destroy” the Turkish economy unless Ankara relented.
Not all Republican senators were praising the Turkey agreement, with Marco Rubio sounding unimpressed.
“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,” Rubio told reporters.
Shortly after the ceasefire announcement, one of Trump’s few regular Republican critics in Congress, Senator Mitt Romney, delivered a blistering floor speech attacking White House policy on Syria and questioning “why Turkey will face no apparent consequences.”
“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory,” Romney argued.
“Lives are already lost, and American honor has already been tarnished,” he said.
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