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With Syria cease-fire set to expire, Erdogan warns Turkey will renew assault if Kurds don't withdraw – USA TODAY, USA Today

With Syria cease-fire set to expire, Erdogan warns Turkey will renew assault if Kurds don't withdraw – USA TODAY, USA Today


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    Kurdish residents showed their frustration with the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria by throwing food at military convoy as they were leaving.     USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – A USbrokered cease-firethat suspended fighting between Turkey and Kurdish fighters in Syria will expire within hours, and the Trump administration remains under intense pressure to protect America’s Kurdish allies froma feared ethnic cleansing.

But amid aUS military withdrawalfrom Syria, the Trump administration’s ability to address the crisis seemed dramatically diminished.

Nowhere was that more evident thanin Russia, where President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met to discuss the status of a vital strip of territory along the Syria-Turkey border.

Kurdish forces had controlled that territory in northeastern Syria until two weeks ago, whenTurkey invadedand began pushing them south. Under the U.S.-brokered cease-fire set to expire midday Tuesday, the Kurdish fighters agreed to pull back deeper into Syria, and Turkey agreed to stop its assault.

Erdogan said Tuesday that 1, 300 Syrian Kurdish fighters had yet to vacate a stretch of the border, as required under the deal. But a senior Kurdish official, Redur Khalil, said Monday that his forces were preparing to complete the withdrawal. Khalil also called for an international mechanism to protect Kurdish civilians who want to stay in their towns after the Kurdish fighters leave.

Erdogan warned Tuesday that if the Kurdish fighters do not withdraw, “our offensive will continue from where it left off, with a much greater determination.”

“There is no place for the (Kurdish fighters) in Syria’s future. We hope that with Russia’s cooperation, we will rid the region of separatist terror, ”he said.

The developments unfolded as Trump faced mounting blowback on Capitol Hill over his decision earlier this month to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria. Critics say that move gave Erdogan a green light to invade Syria and attack the Kurds. Turkey views the Kurds in Syria as terrorists.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a resolution that urges Trump to stop the US military withdrawal from Syria and calls on the president to “rethink” his invitation to Erdogan to visit the White House.

“It recognizes the grave consequences of US withdrawal, the rising influence of Russia, Iran and the Assad regime, and the escape of more than 100 ISIS-affiliated fighters detained in the region , ”McConnell said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday. “We specifically urge the president to end the drawdown” in Syria.

Russia has stepped into the void left by America’s withdrawal, offering to patrol the border region and serve as a buffer between the Kurds and the Turks. The Kurds are hoping Russian and Syrian forces can keep Turkey’s military at bay and help them maintain some autonomy in the region they carved out for themselves during Syria’s civil war.

Putin is a staunch ally of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, who has used chemical weapons to attack his own people amid Syria’s horrific civil war.

While Erdogan and Putin met in Sochi, a Russian resort town, to discuss the Syrian crisis, the Trump administration continued to send mixed signals about its policy and next steps. Trump has zigzagged between ordering a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, to announcing he would leave a residual force there.

Trump said Monday thata “small” number of US troopswill remain in Syria, a shift that came amid blistering criticism from lawmakers in both parties who have denounced his previous decision to withdraw American forces.

“I’m trying to get out of wars. We may have to get in wars, too, ”Trump said in a rambling, 70 – minute Cabinet meeting on Monday.

On Tuesday, Trump’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said “some progress has certainly been made “to stop the Turkey-Kurdish conflict but conceded that the outcome remained unclear.

“The success of the outcome there is not yet fully determined,” Pompeo said during a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation. He did not say what the Trump administration would do to keep the cease-fire in place.

The administration’s position may become clearer Tuesday afternoon, when the State Department’s Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senators are likely to question Jeffrey over the latest developments.

McConnell did not say when the Senate would vote on his nonbinding resolution, which he touted as “stronger” thana measure passed by the House last week

But the GOP Senate leader also expressed concerns about a more forceful response:bipartisan legislationthat would slap stiff new sanctions on Turkey. Sens. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced a bill last week that would target Erdogan’s personal finances and sanction the Turkish armed forces, among other entities.

“We need to think extremely carefully before ”imposing sanctions on a NATO ally, McConnell said. He said it’s not clear if such economic penalties would weaken Erdogan inside Turkey or“ rally the country to cause. ”He said the i mpact of such a bill could also hurt American companies and U.S. allies whose economies are closely intertwined with Turkey’s.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019 / 10 / 22 / syria-erdogan-meets-putin-warns-kurds- cease-fire-end / 4056235002 /

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