Tue, 12 Nov 2019

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are due in Turkey seeking to secure a cease-fire in the Turkish invasion of northern Syria as President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw troops from the area, saying it's 'not our border' and that the Kurds are 'not angels.'

'Our mission set is to see if we can get a cease-fire, see if we can get this brokered,' Pompeo told reporters on his plane.

Pence and Pompeo, who departed on different planes, intended to hold talks on October 17 in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, although it was not immediately clear whether Erdogan would agree to meet with them.

Trump said he believed Pence and Pompeo will 'have a successful meeting' in Turkey after a weeklong offensive that Ankara launched saying it wanted to clear the area of Kurdish forces and establish a buffer zone to resettle Syrian refugees.

Turkey's move came after Trump's abrupt decision announced last week to withdraw U.S. forces from northeast Syria, where they had been supporting Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State (IS) group.

Turkey has long argued the Kurdish fighters in Syria are an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Ankara, Washington, and the European Union have designated as a terrorist organization.

If the talks fail, 'the sanctions, tariffs, other things that we're doing -- will do and are doing -- to Turkey will be devasting to Turkey's economy,' Trump said at a news conference alongside Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Washington.

But he said that the PKK 'is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than' IS.

Trump added that Kurds 'know how to fight and as I said, they aren't angels. They are not angels, if you take a look.'

Trump defended his decision to redeploy about 1,000 U.S. soldiers from northern Syria as 'strategically brilliant' for the United States, while saying he had no problem if Russia helped Syria in a conflict with Turkey.

Separately on October 16, a letter was disclosed in which Trump both cajoled and threatened Erdogan last week, urging him to act only in 'the right and humane way' in Syria.

In the letter, dated October 9 -- the day Turkey launched the invasion -- Trump wrote to his Turkish counterpart: 'Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool.'

Also on October 16, the House of Representatives condemned Trump's pullout in a resolution that received an overwhelming majority of 354 votes, including 129 from Trump's fellow Republicans.

Kurdish Syrian civilians flee the town of Kobani on the Turkish border on October 16.

The outcome infuriated Trump, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California).

That mood carried over to a closed meeting Trump later had with House Republican and Democratic lawmakers that was meant to review his plans on Syria, she told reporters afterward.

Instead, the meeting descended into diatribe, with Democrats being subjected 'derogatory' language by Trump, Reuters reported, citing several lawmakers who attended the discussion.

Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' during the meeting and soon after she and the other Democrats walked out.

'What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say,' Pelosi said.

Since the U.S. troop withdrawal, the former U.S.-allied Kurds in northeastern Syria have teamed up with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and his ally, Russia, which has stepped in as the biggest power player, sending in patrols to the northern part of the country.

Late on October 16, AP reported that Syrian troops rolled into the strategic border town of Kobani, where the U.S. military and Kurdish fighters had first united to defeat the Islamic State extremist group four years ago.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa, and BBC

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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