• What to Think? Erdogan Vows Never a Ceasefire … Then Agrees to One — Sort of

    Surge Summary: Turkey President Recep Erdogan was rebuffing any suggestion he might be open to a quick and amicable solution to the current conflict evolving along the Turkey/Syria border, not evoking particular openness to the White House’s peace-making efforts.  Then Thursday, he agreed to a five day “pause” in hostilities so Kurds could safely leave the region.

    Things hadn’t been looking good for a brisk rapprochement between President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in this recent Turkey/Syria contretemps. At least not if the pugnacious dictator’s words meant anything …

    Which, perhaps they didn’t? Or did?

    Mairead MCardle (National Review) quotes his blunt avowal:

    “They tell us to declare a ceasefire. We can never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan told reporters [Wednesday].

    It’s a second week of hostilities as Kurdish forces in Northern Syria attempt to fight off Turkish efforts to occupy a 20-mile–wide strip of territory along the country’s border in order to resettle about 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.

    “God willing, we will quickly secure the region stretching from Manbij to our border with Iraq,” Erdogan said. “When the zone from Manbij to Iraq [is cleared] when we could establish a safe zone, this operation will be over. But until that point, no power can stop us.”

    Last week, President Trump recently pulled 1,000 U.S. troops out of northern Syria drawing fierce bipartisan criticism. Many believe the sudden and unexpected move opened U.S.-allied Kurdish forces to Turkish attack. Reports indicate many civilians have been killed and as many as 160,000 people displaced thus far.

    In the wake of the violence, President Trump dispatched Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Erdogan and negotiate a ceasefire. Pence’s office said he planned to meet with Erdogan on Thursday. The Turkish president originally said he would refuse to meet with Pence but later changed his mind.

    Erdogan also has dismissed the notion that he would be brought to the negotiating table by economic sanctions, which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the White House have already threatened to impose. “They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

    Politicians in Washington also are concerned  the upheaval could hinder operations in the region attempting to hinder the Islamic State – ISIS. Thousands of terrorist prisoners have been confined in Kurdish camps which are now under attack in the area. How long will they remain securely detained under these conditions?

    President Trump’s much-touted negotiating skills are facing a challenge in these developments, perhaps greater than any he’s encountered during his first term. He had seemed to be running into a Turkish brick wall in Erdogan.

    Then … the Turkish leader met with VP Pence and …

    Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that the United States reached a cease-fire agreement with Turkey to suspend its military operation in Syria to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone.

    Pence said that Turkey will suspend its military operations for five days to allow the Kurdish forces to leave the zone, and that U.S. forces will aid in the retreat. …

    The agreement appears to be a significant embrace of Turkey’s position in the weeklong conflict, giving the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation. After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent cease-fire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops. 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.

    Kurdish forces were not party to the agreement, and it was not immediately clear whether they would comply. [Saphora Smith and Dartunorro Clark/nbcnews.com]

    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was more guarded, characterizing the agreement as “not a cease-fire” but a “pause”. (John Haltiwanger/businessinsider.com)

    So, apparently a hopeful development, even though Erdogan had essentially thundered, No way it is going to happen.

    Perhaps the sixty-five-year-old strong-man had just been indulging some negotiating tactics of his own?

    Stay tuned …

    H/T: Mairead MCardle/National Review

    Image: Adapted from: Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64267815

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