Washington: United States Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said that Turkey has agreed to a ceasefire to allow the Kurdish forces it was battling to safely withdraw from an area in northern Syria.
Pence spoke after he and other US officials met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. He said that President Donald Trump made it clear that had Turkey not agreed, the US would impose more economic sanctions. However, the agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation in the first place, removal of the Kurdish forces from the border "safe zone".
Pence said Turkey had agreed to a "pause in military operations for 120 hours" to allow the Kurds to withdraw. He said the US and Turkey had "mutually committed to a peaceful resolution and future for the safe zone".
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. That, according to one US official, is tantamount to allowing Turkey to occupy the safe zone.
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.
Turkey confirmed the suspension of its offensive in Syria until Kurdish militants withdraw from the area, said its foreign minister.
"We are suspending the operation, not halting it," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists in Ankara. "We will halt the operation only after (Kurdish militants) completely withdraw from the region."
US President Donald Trump hailed "great news" following the talks between Pence and Erdogan.
"Great news out of Turkey," Trump said in a tweet, shortly before Pence announced the announcement of the ceasefire. "Millions of lives will be saved!"
This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2019
The US will withdraw its recently imposed sanctions on Turkey, Pence said. During the five-day ceasefire, Washington "will not be implementing additional sanctions", he added.
"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," said Pence, referring to Kurdish forces in Syria.
Trump's chief of staff had earlier said the president may revoke a White House invitation extended to Erdogan, depending on the outcome of the talks in Ankara. "It's still on the schedule," Mike Mulvaney told reporters, "but I think that's one of those wait and see things."
"The president's been very clear about what he wants to see out of President Erdogan," he added.