U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has announced a cease-fire in Turkey's assault on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, following talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
Pence, accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, met with the Turkish leader.
The meeting came a day after Trump dismissed the importance of the outcome of the fighting, saying it "has nothing to do with us," even as the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning his troop withdrawal. Trump instead disparaged the Kurdish fighters, who had fought alongside U.S. troops against Islamic State terrorists, as "no angels."
U.S. Senate leaders announced plans for legislation with wide-ranging sanctions against NATO member Turkey, for the offensive against the Kurdish fighters and also its purchase of a Russian-made defensive missile system against the wishes of the U.S. and other NATO governments.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump political ally but also a critic of his Syrian troop withdrawal, said, "We believe that Erdogan's decision to go into Syria puts our allies at risk. We believe that the rise of ISIS is imminent if this continues."
Letter to Erdogan
Trump, in a letter last week to Erdogan, warned the Turkish leader, "Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool!" to carry out the onslaught on the Kurdish fighters, but reports from Turkey said Erdogan threw the short note "in the bin."
Trump said Erdogan risked being branded in history as a "devil" by carrying out the attack on the Kurdish fighters, whom he views as allied with Kurdish separatists that have been battling for autonomy inside Turkey for three decades.
But Erdogan vowed Wednesday to continue the offensive. With the U.S. troops withdrawn, Kurdish forces struck a deal with Syrian forces to return for the first time in years to northern Syrian outposts, with allied Russian soldiers entering the border town of Kobane.
Erdogan Remains Defiant in Face of US Sanctions Turkish president dismisses Trump administration measures, vows to continue operation
Trump warned at a news conference Wednesday that economic sanctions he is imposing against Ankara "will be devastating to Turkey's economy."
The U.S. leader said he "didn't give [Erdogan] a green light" for the attacks on the Kurdish fighters, but he was dismissive of the importance of the fighting to the United States.
"Syria may have some help with Russia, and that's fine," Trump said. "They've got a lot of sand over there. So, there's a lot of sand that they can play with. Let them fight their own wars."
Trump told reporters he has no regrets about having 26 to 28 U.S. military personnel inside Syria stand aside as the Turks moved across the border.
"Syria doesn't want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that," he said. "But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they're fighting over Syria's land? Are we supposed to fight a NATO member, in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land?"
Trump: I Did Not Green-Light Turkish Incursion Into Syria US president tells reporters he does not want to get involved in a war between Turkey and Syria
The president also termed the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, as "worse of a terrorist threat than ISIS."
The Syrian conflict, which began in 2011, had already created a humanitarian crisis in Syria with millions of people fleeing their homes and in need of aid.
An estimated 160,000 people have been displaced since the Turkish operation began last week, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
At the news conference Wednesday, Trump expressed deep concern about the Turkish offensive, noting the large number of civilian victims and warning it could lead to a resurgence of ISIS.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution Wednesday opposing Trump's decision to end U.S. operations in Syria, calling on Erdogan to immediately cease military action and for the United States to continue supporting the Kurds.
It urges the White House to "present a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS." A large number of Trump's fellow Republicans voted for it.
Sen. Lindsey Graham's fears
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a usually reliable Trump ally, bluntly criticized the president's latest comments about the region.
"I worry we will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will re-emerge, & Iran's rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel. I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking," Graham said on Twitter.
Graham, who sits on the foreign relations committee, said Trump's words "completely undercut" efforts by Pence and Pompeo to end the conflict.
Erdogan is scheduled to visit the White House on Nov. 13. But he said whether his trip to the United States will still occur depends on the outcome of the discussions in Ankara with Pence and Pompeo.
Trump already has hiked tariffs on Turkish steel imports and called off negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey.
Trump on Wednesday also addressed concerns regarding the estimated 50 tactical nuclear weapons stored at a U.S. base in Turkey. The president's response was that he is confident those weapons are secure.
"We have a great air base there," said Trump. "It's a large, powerful air base."