Turkey has agreed to suspend its Syria offensive for five days and will end the assault if Kurdish-led forces withdraw from a safe zone along the border, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish officials announced on Thursday after high-stakes talks.
The agreement for the 120-hour pause eased what had escalated into an unprecedented crisis between the United States and Turkey, but critics quickly accused President Donald Trump of again abandoning Kurdish allies.
Under the deal reached after Pence flew to Ankara, Kurdish forces will have to withdraw from an area of 32 kilometers (20 miles) deep, becoming a “safe zone” long sought by Turkey, which brands the fighters as “terrorists.”
Trump paved the way for the week-long Turkish offensive by withdrawing U.S. troops but he later imposed sanctions and threatened to destroy the NATO ally’s economy as he came under fire at home.
After talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that stretched hours longer than expected, Pence told reporters that Turkey’s operation “will be halted entirely on completion” of the pullout of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and, following that, the U.S. would withdraw sanctions.
Pence said the United States would work with the YPG, the Kurdish fighters who dominate the SDF, “to facilitate an orderly withdrawal in the next 120 hours.”
SDF chief Mazlum Abdi said the forces were “ready to abide by the ceasefire” covering the area from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad. But James Jeffrey, the U.S. pointman on Syria, acknowledged that the Kurdish fighters were not happy and that Washington was using “a carrot and a stick” with threats of sanctions to enforce the deal.
“There’s no doubt that the YPG wishes that they could stay in these areas,” he told reporters travelling from Ankara with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.