US President Donald Trump on Thursday hailed the announcement that Turkey had agreed to suspend its offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, calling it a “great day” for the Turks and the Kurds.
“We have a five-day ceasefire,” Trump told reporters, after Vice President Mike Pence said that Ankara had agreed to suspend its military operation, and end it entirely once Kurdish fighters withdraw from a safe zone along the Turkey-Syria border.
“It’s a great day for the United States,” the president said in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is to hold a reelection rally.
“It’s a great day for Turkey,” Trump said. “It’s a great day for the Kurds. It’s a great day for civilization.”
“This is a situation where everybody’s happy,” Trump declared.
Trump has come under bipartisan fire in Washington for abruptly pulling US troops in Syria near the Turkish border, paving the way for Ankara’s operation against the Kurds, who have been US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Trump heaped praise on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“He’s a hell of a leader,” Trump said. “He did the right thing.
“I have great respect for the president.”
Asked whether a November visit to Washington by Erdogan was still on the table, Trump said “that would be very much open.
“I would say, yeah, he would come. He did a terrific thing.”
The president it would no longer be necessary to impose US sanctions on Turkey.
“Sanctions won’t be necessary because Turkey’s doing what they’re doing,” he said.
Asked whether he believed a ceasefire would last, Trump said “I think it’s going to last.”
“I think President Erdogan’s very smart,” he said. “He wants it to last.”
“Turkey is a friend of ours, a neighbor of ours and a member of NATO,” he said. “And what Turkey is getting now is, they’re not going to have to kill millions of people, and millions of people aren’t going to have to kill them.”
The agreement struck by Pence left some lawmakers in Washington, including in Trump’s Republican Party, unimpressed.
“Other than giving Kurds a chance to leave so they don’t get slaughtered, it doesn’t sound like a change of any of the other dynamics I’m concerned about,” Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who hours earlier unveiled legislation that would impose sharp sanctions on Turkey, said that while he was encouraged with the recent developments between Pence and Erdogan, “we’re going to keep working” to get the sanctions bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
Turkey and Syrian rebel proxies began an offensive in northern Syria last week against Kurdish fighters who Ankara brands terrorists, despite international concern over regional stability and civilian deaths.
Ankara considers Syrian Kurdish YPG militants to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a group that has fought a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for 35 years.