Trump To Lift Sanctions After Turkey Agrees To Truce In Syria

Oct 24, 2019
Originally published on October 24, 2019 7:22 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump cleared the way for Turkey to attack Syrian Kurds, who are U.S. allies. And now he's taking credit for a cease-fire. He says Turkey assured him it is stopping its military operation in northeast Syria. Kurdish forces insisted today that Turkey is not honoring the cease-fire. In the meantime, Russia is moving into areas that U.S. troops withdrew from. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul following all of this. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So the newest news is that Turkey - the U.S. is lifting these sanctions on Turkey. What's the reaction been like there?

KENYON: Well, I wouldn't call it a huge reaction. It's not even the lead story in some news outlets. Basically, Turkish officials are acting as, yeah, this was expected. Now, remember; over the past week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in high-level talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and then with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. And following the Russia meeting, Erdogan said Turkey's going to be watching closely to see if these two countries fulfill their promises. And if they don't, the implication would be the military operation against Kurdish militants could resume.

Erdogan said Putin in particular was quite clear that Russia would definitely move these YPG Kurdish fighters away from the Turkish border. So now how far they move, how long they stay away from the border - those will then become a couple of important things to watch.

KING: Peter, how significant is it that Russia is moving in to fill this vacuum that was left by departing U.S. troops?

KENYON: Well, it's a clear change in terms of regional influence. And it's seen here as a big win for Russia, also for the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad. The departure of all but a small number of American troops leaves Russia as the main international player in Syria. Moscow is, of course, Assad's most important ally.

Of course, President Trump has made it quite clear for some time now his intention to disentangle U.S. forces from Mideast conflicts wherever possible. He took some credit for this cease-fire, saying this outcome was created, quote, "by the United States and nobody else." He also said Syria's regional neighbors should be taking a bigger role. Here's a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The nations in the region must ultimately take on the responsibility of helping Turkey and Syria police their border. We want other nations to get involved.

KENYON: Now, which other nations should be doing what...

KING: Yeah.

KENYON: ...Isn't quite clear. Hard to imagine Saudi Arabia and Iran, for instance, teaming up to stabilize Syria. Would Egypt have a role to play? Would the Arab League? Hard to see what that might be. Iran, of course, with Russia, is a supporter of the Assad regime. And how Tehran's role in Syria develops over time is also something Western officials and Israeli officials will be very interested in.

KING: OK. So you mentioned how many countries really have an interest here and what happens next, which raises the question of how much influence the United States actually could have next over what happens...

KENYON: Yes.

KING: ...In Syria.

KENYON: Well, that's a very good question. The feeling here is that Washington will almost certainly have less influence than it had before. Its former partners, the Kurdish YPG fighters - they're feeling abandoned. They made a point of reaching out to the Syrian government, inviting pro-Assad troops to come north from Damascus. The Russian influence, as we said, looks to be growing. And as it does, the Syrian regime is going to be feeling more and more confident about fulfilling Assad's pledge to retake control of all Syrian territory.

Washington can still take steps. They can threaten new sanctions against Turkey if it doesn't like the way things are going. In fact, Trump made that exact point in announcing the lifting of the current sanctions. But the view here in general is that as the U.S. presence diminishes, so does its influence.

KING: President Trump, of course, taking credit for what he calls a cease-fire and then said, well, we'll see if the cease-fire really holds. How stable are things now in northeastern Syria?

KENYON: Yeah, a big question. From Turkey's perspective, if Russia moves the YPG fighters far enough away from the border, Ankara's stated goals in Syria will have been met. But how long will Turkish troops have to remain on Syrian soil?

And on the other hand, the YPG Kurdish fighters, who partnered with U.S. forces to fight ISIS, seem to be getting nothing. The Syrian Defense Forces have a list of demands which suggest they're not very happy with this idea of moving back. And so we'll have to see how that plays out.

KING: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.