President Trump announced Wednesday that conditions have been met between Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for what he called a “permanent ceasefire” between the two sides and that the United States is lifting sanctions on Ankara that were implemented following the invasion of northern Syria.
Speaking at the White House, Trump said that while a “permanent ceasefire” will be tough to maintain in the volatile region, he hopes it will last and end the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds.
“I do believe it will be permanent,” he said. “This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else…we’ve done something very, very special.”
Trump delivered the statement amid bipartisan criticism over his recent decision to pull back U.S. forces from northern Syria, opening the door for Turkey to launch a military offensive. But the administration has sought to halt the fighting. The ceasefire required Kurdish forces formerly allied with the U.S. against the Islamic State group to move out of a roughly 20-mile zone on the Turkish border. With Kurdish forces out of the zone, Turkey will halt its assault, Trump said.
“We’ve saved the lives of many, many Kurds,” he added.
Trump added that if Turkey breaches the cease-fire, the sanctions could be reimposed.
“The sanctions are lifted unless something happens that we’re not happy with,” he added.
Trump’s statement follows an early morning tweet, where he announced a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border, and voiced optimism after the initial 120-hour pause in the Turkish military operation there ended.
“Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended. Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us,” Trump tweeted. “Captured ISIS prisoners secured.”
The U.S. withdrawal was followed immediately by Turkish aggression, and Trump faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike who blamed him for allowing the violence to go unchecked and leaving Kurdish allies to fend for themselves. Turkey and Russia reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Trump said Wednesday that nearly all U.S. troops will be leaving Syria but some will remain to safeguard oil fields in Syria. Russian forces have already begun joint patrols with Turkish forces along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Ankara last week to work out the initial cease-fire. Though that period has since lapsed, Pence said earlier there’s an opportunity for a permanent cease-fire in the region.
James Jeffrey, a career diplomat who oversees Washington’s role in the global fight against the Islamic State, also told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he does not believe the troop withdrawal added to Turkey’s decision to invade northern Syria. Jeffrey, however, did concede that if U.S. forces had been told to stand their ground amid a Turkish invasion, Turkey may have thought otherwise about crossing the border.
Under the recent 10-point deal, Russia and Turkey have given Kurdish fighters 150 hours starting at noon Wednesday — meaning, until next Tuesday at 6 p.m. — to withdraw from the border.
Russian and Syrian government forces would move into that area immediately to ensure the Kurdish fighters pull back 20 miles from the border. Then at the end of the 150 hours, Russian-Turkish patrols would begin along a six-mile-wide strip of the border.
The exception would be the region around the town of Qamishli at the far eastern end of the border, which has some of the densest Kurdish population.
Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian newswires, that if the Kurds do not complete their withdrawal by the Tuesday deadline, Turkey would resume their offensive.
“It’s quite obvious that if the Kurdish units don’t withdraw with their weapons then Syrian border guards and Russian military police will have to step back. And the remaining Kurdish units will be steamrolled by the Turkish army,” Peskov said.
Fox News’ Melissa Leon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.