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Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday about Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria. They agreed to a five-day pause in the operation, but disagreed about whether or not it constitutes a "cease-fire." Judy Woodruff reports and sits down with Serdar Kilic, Turkish ambassador to the U.S., to discuss.
Five days, 120 hours, turkey now says that it will stop its military drive into Syria for that long in order to let Kurdish fighters withdraw.
The Kurds say they will comply. This follows a tense day of talks between Turkey and the U.S.
Today, the United States and Turkey have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria.
The announcement came from Vice President Pence, after he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held more than four hours of talks with Turkey's president in Ankara.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to stop the assault on Kurdish YPG fighters in Northeastern Syria.
It will be a pause in military operations for 120 hours, while the United States facilitates the withdrawal of YPG from the affected areas in the safe zone. And once that is completed, Turkey has agreed to a permanent cease-fire.
President Trump lauded the outcome during a visit to Fort Worth, Texas.
President Donald Trump:
I just want to thank and congratulate, though, President Erdogan. He's a friend of mine, and I'm glad we didn't have a problem, because, frankly, he's a hell of a leader, and he's a tough man. He's a strong man. And he did the right thing.
But in Ankara, the Turkish foreign minister disputed that it was indeed a cease-fire, and hailed the deal as a win for Turkey.
Mevlut Cavusoglu (through translator):
This is not a cease-fire. Cease-fires can be done only between two legitimate sides. We are only pausing the operation to allow the terrorist groups, which are the targets of the operation, to withdraw from the safe zone.
Yesterday, a letter surfaced from President Trump to Erdogan. It was dated last Wednesday, October 9, three days after Mr. Trump ordered U.S. troops out of Northeast Syria. He warned against a Turkish military offensive, and said, in decidedly undiplomatic language: "Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool."
Erdogan reportedly threw away the letter, and launched the assault into Syria the same day. The Turkish leader had vowed not to stop until establishing a 20-mile buffer zone into Syrian territory to rout Kurdish fighters. He considers them terrorists allied with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.
The top Syrian Kurds of the YPG, in turn, announced a new alliance with the Syrian government and its Russian allies. The top Syrian Kurdish commander said on Wednesday that President Trump approved that alliance in a phone call.
Mazloum Abdi (through translator):
In this sense, Trump said that we are not against it. We told them that we are contacting the Syrian regime and the Russians in order to protect our country and land. He said: We are not against that. We support that.
Today, President Trump dismissed bipartisan criticism of his actions. He said the U.S. pullout and sanctions on Turkey created an amazing outcome.
This was something they have been trying to get for 10 years. We would have lost millions and millions of lives. They couldn't get it without a little rough love, as I called it, I just put out. They needed a little bit of that.
But, back in Washington, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, along with Democrat Chris Van Hollen, said they will go ahead with legislation for tougher sanctions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:
I think we should keep working on them. We have introduced the bill. We haven't passed anything. I'm still going to get co-sponsors.
Meanwhile, fighting continued today in parts of Northeastern Syria, with explosions continuing to rock the border town of Ras al-Ayn.
Now for Turkey's view of this deal, how it came to be, and the fighting in Northern Syria, I'm joined by Serdar Kilic, Turkey's ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome to the "NewsHour."
Thank you very much for taking me.
So your government says this is not a cease-fire; it's a pause in the fighting.
Our government, the U.S., says it is a cease-fire.
Which is it, and does your government plan to honor it?
Well, I think we agree that there's going to be a pause. It's not a cease-fire.
We are just trying to provide for the withdrawal of YPG/PYD elements from the region that we are…
These are the Kurdish fighters.
Well, I wouldn't say Kurdish. They are YPG/PYD.
There is a distinction between the Kurds and the YPG/PYD. There is an incredible mixture — mix in that regards in. The United States, they are referring to the YPG/PYD as Kurds.
Yes, all the members of YPG/PYD are Kurds, but they do not represent the Kurds.
Does Turkey consider them more of a threat than ISIS?
Well, even President Trump have stated a couple of days that PKK is more of a threat than the ISIS.
This is the terrorist group…
It's an existential threat to us.
Our operation conducted in Northern Syria and our determination to fight against Da'esh are not mutually exclusive. We have the determination and we are going to fight decisively, if there is a need, against Da'esh as well.
But YPG/PYD is an existential threat to us. We have lost 40,000 people at the hands of PKK terrorists, 40,000. You have lost only 3,000 in 9/11 in New York.
And we have given full support to the United States during its operations against the culprits of 9/11. And we did not question when the United States conducted operations in Afghanistan, whether it is against the Afghani people. We knew that it was against the al-Qaida.
The messages that were given by even high-caliber senators like Senator Graham and Van Hollen, they are — they have hurt the feelings of the Turkish public opinion.
Referring to YPG/PYD, a terrorist organization, which is recognized as such by the United States authorities, because it's (INAUDIBLE) PKK, referring to it as an ally, and blaming President Trump…
Well, they did work alongside the United States in the fight against ISIS in Syria.
They did. They did. Yes, that was the mistake at the first place, Judy.
I mean, you cannot fight successful — I mean, you cannot conduct a successful fight against a terrorist organization by making use of another terrorist organization.
You mentioned Senator Van Hollen, Senator Graham.
In fact, it's the entire foreign policy — Foreign Affairs Committees of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate that are saying they are going full speed ahead with sanctions against Turkey, despite this agreement.
Well, this is the prejudice that we have to overcome.
They are referring to the Kurds or the YPG/PYD, as they refer Kurds, as the ally of the United States. They are not ally of the United States. They are making use of the support of the United States in order to carve out a Marxist state from Syria.
Our first of all and ultimate goal in Syria, as the international community, is trying to preserve the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria.
Several questions about what led to this.
There was, as you know, the phone call between President Trump and President Erdogan on Sunday, October the 6th, at which time they discussed apparently this operation.
And President Erdogan gave the go-ahead to this operation shortly after that phone call.
What was said by President Trump to President Erdogan that gave him the confidence to move ahead, after months and months and years of the United States opposing this?
Well, we have, since a long time, made our views in that regard very clear, that we are not going to let a terrorist corridor to develop in Northern Syria which will be an existential threat to the Turkey's security stability and to security of the Turkish territories and populations.
We will not let that happen. During the telephone conversation, there are reports that President Trump gave a green light. Which country needs a green light in order to defend its citizens?
But there was change in — in the past, the U.S. has said, do not do this. The U.S. has troops in Northern Syria. Do not move against them.
Well, in that regard, I think President Trump understood that, in any case, we are going to take that action to defend our population, territory, and forces. And we are authorized fully by the United Nations charter Article 51.
So he understood that that operation is going to come, and he didn't want to lead to an undesired clash between our forces over there. So he decided to withdraw his forces.
If he understood that there was going to be a military operation, why then did just a couple days later President Trump say publicly, please stop, Turkey, don't go any further?
I believe that he was under big domestic pressure from the Congress and from certain media outlets. And that's why he changed his messages in that regard.
But during that entire time, he also mentioned that Turkey has the full right to defend its citizens and to be able to get rid of the threat that is coming from the YPG/PYD. He was very vocal in that regard as well.
Do you also believe that it was pressure that led President Trump to send that letter to President Erdogan on October the 9th last week in which he said: "History is going to look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen; don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool"?
Judy, very frankly speaking, I hope history will not record that letter.
That letter should not have been sent at the first place, because it lacks all the niceties. And it's void of any established practices in that regard. I mean, I totally reject that letter. And I hope that history is not going to record it in any case, in any way.
What was President Erdogan's reaction to it?
Well, our reaction was even in Syria in that regard.
What do you mean?
Well, we started conducting the operation.
And there were advisers to President Erdogan who reportedly told the press that President Erdogan threw it in the trash. Is that correct?
Well, I mean, he accepted that letter as null and void.
Null and void?
I want to ask you about something else, Mr. Ambassador.
And that is, you have said repeatedly that Turkey is fighting terrorists in going into Northern Syria.
But I want to read — this is from an awesome autopsy report that came with a video.
And this is of a senior Syrian Kurdish politician, a woman who was killed in the last week during the incursion.
And I'm reading. She was beaten in the head, beaten on the leg, dragged by her hair, shot in the head at close range, and then shot four more times after she fell to the ground.
Is this the method of the Turkish military?
Of course not. Of course not. Of course not.
And if there is any wrongdoing in that regard, you can rest assured that's going to be investigated.
Our (INAUDIBLE) reporting in that regard is — flaws. We have never committed a crime or atrocities against the Syrians.
What were your troops told to do in Syria?
To avoid Syrian casualties, to avoid attacking religious sites and the civilian population.
One of the factors of — as a result of this is that Russia has moved into Northern Syria now, very close to the Syrian government, the Syrian regime.
Is Russia now the real winner in all this, because it has more influence in Syria as a result of this?
Well, at the end of the day — I will put it from a different perspective.
At the end of the day, I hope that the Syrian people will be the winners. There are 3.6 million refugees in Turkey, Syrian refugees in Turkey, and refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and so on and so forth.
At the end of the day, I hope that the winner will be the Syrian people. Whatever happens in Syria, it's not going to be confined within the borders of Syria. It will have a spillover effect.
Is there a role for the United States in Syria at all at this point going forward?
Of course. Of course.
They are going to collaborate with us, I hope, for the implementation of the safe zone in Northern Syria. We need the assistance of the entire international community.
As I told you, we have 3.6 million refugees in Turkey that we have spent 40 billion U.S. dollars. And nobody is taking — paying any attention and turning a blind eye to the fact that we are taking care of an additional 3.5 million internally displaced Syrians within Syrian territories.
This is a burden that we cannot shoulder alone. And in that regard, of course we need the support of the United States too.
Ambassador Serdar Kilic, ambassador of Turkey to the United States, thank you very much.
Thank you for having me and for providing me the opportunity.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Judy.
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