ANKARA, Turkey — The U.S. and Turkey have reached an agreement on a five-day cease-fire in Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday.
After the full implementation of the cease-fire, the U.S. would withdraw sanctions it has imposed on Turkey, Pence said at a news conference here.
The agreement came after five hours of talks that began with a one-on-one meeting between Pence and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It comes after a week in which Turkey crossed into northern Syria and largely pushed Kurdish forces back from the border. That established facts on the ground that gave the U.S. delegation relatively little leverage. The already difficult task became harder in the hours before Pence left Washington on Wednesday as President Donald Trump downplayed the increasingly violent conflict and showed little empathy toward the Kurdish forces, the onetime U.S. allies who have suffered heavy casualties during Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria.
Erdogan ordered the incursion into the area of northern Syria that had been under Kurdish control a week ago, shortly after Trump agreed to pull out a small contingent of U.S. troops who had effectively acted as peacekeepers in the region.
Pence arrived at the Turkish presidential palace just before 3:30 p.m. local time Thursday and was quickly ushered into a one-on-one meeting with only Erdogan and two translators.
The high-stakes diplomacy came together in just days, after Erdogan suggested the possibility of talks in Ankara to resolve the escalating diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
When Pence landed Thursday, he was immediately faced with reports that Erdogan had told a Turkish news organization that he threw an Oct. 9 letter from Trump into the rubbish bin. The White House on Wednesday released the text of the letter in which Trump admonished Erdogan not to be “a tough guy.”
“You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will,” Trump wrote.
The next day, Erdogan launched the military assault into Syria.
Although Erdogan has publicly dismissed U.S. overtures asking him to halt his offensive, U.S. officials hope that he will eventually put a higher priority on Turkey’s long-term relationship with the U.S. and its continued standing within the broader international community.
Turkish officials, however, have fought for decades to suppress independence movements among the country’s Kurdish citizens and see the autonomous Kurdish groups in neighboring Syria and Iraq as existential threats.
National security advisor Robert O’Brien arrived in Ankara on Wednesday, a day ahead of Pence and Pompeo, and has been working with Turkish counterparts to negotiate the terms of a potential cease-fire. During the course of the 13-hour journey from Washington to Ankara, Pence spoke with Trump and other Cabinet officials.
O’Brien and James Jeffrey, the special envoy for Syria, were set to take part in the expanded discussions.