U.S. and Turkey reach an agreement after months of sanctions wars

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President Trump announced on Oct. 23 that he is lifting sanctions imposed against Turkey (on Oct. 14) as the Turkish forces suspended their offense against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, a decision that instigated an agreement with Russia, allowing their security forces to patrol nearby and at the same time, giving 150 hours to Kurdish fighters to vacate an apparently war-torn zone (according to Turkish authorities), north of the country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey struck the deal with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, giving Russia ammunition and protection in Turkey. Also, as part of the agreement, Russian and Syrian security forces agreed to oversee the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the 300-mile long strip at the Turkish border, reports the Wall Street Journal. 

The Turkish government informed the Trump administration that it is stopping combat and making the cease-fire (that was negotiated by the Trump administration) permanent. The president was seemingly supportive, but later added the word “questionable” to indicate that the deal could be off in case Turkey engages in anything that the administration is against.

He also said that he spoke on the phone with Kurdish general Mazloum Abdi, who assured him that Islamic state fighters will continue to remain in captivity. “Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand,” the president said in a televised address from the White House, drawing criticism from both the GOP and the Democrats for the abrupt military withdrawal. Trump also added in his address that “over the last five days, you have seen that a cease-fire that we established along Syria’s border has held and has held very well,”.

In the meantime, Turkey is also planning to build a 20-mile safe zone along the Syrian side of the border, which is free of Syrian fighters. It plans to relocate some of the two million Syrian refugees it currently hosts. With concerns that the Kurds may no longer be able to monitor Islamic State prisoners, Trump said he expects Turkey to “abide by its commitment” and to act as a “back-up to the Kurds.”

“Should something happen, Turkey is there to grab them”; he added in his statement. He was speaking shortly after a US State Department official, James Jeffrey, testified in Congress that “over 100 Islamic State prisoners had escaped so far and we do not know where they are,” said Trump.

Should something happen, Turkey is there to grab them”; he added in his statement. He was speaking shortly after a US State Department official, James Jeffrey, testified in Congress that “over 100 Islamic State prisoners had escaped so far and we do not know where they are,”

— President Trump

Trump also said that a “small number of US soldiers would remain nearby, but purely to guard oil facilities”, making it clear that the United States has no business in Syria and that there was never any question of trying to stop a NATO member from carrying out its invasion. 

“We have spent USD 8 trillion on wars in the Middle East, never really wanting to win those wars,” Trump said. However, this policy of seclusion and one-manship grates on many Republicans, whom he is depending upon to save him from a Democratic push to impeach him from office over allegations that he abused his office. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said that the United States must stay engaged, following Trump’s address, and that the U.S. airpower must continue to control the skies over Syria. 

Finally, there is no immediate way of telling whether such a move worked in favor of him or not. U.S forces withdrew from the Kurdish-Turkey war in early October and Turkey ordered the military operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia – which it considers a terrorist organization – on 9 October, as reported by the BBC. Russian forces intervened as a power broker days later, having vested interests in both the U.S. and Turkey and an agreement was sealed. Whether bipartisan criticism trumps international diplomacy is something only time will tell, but at the moment, Turkey can be at peace until something more concrete is decided.