President Donald Trump said he is lifting recently imposed sanctions against Turkey after the country complied with a cease-fire agreement with Kurdish forces in Syria.
“The sanctions will be lifted — unless something happens that we’re not happy with,” Trump said Wednesday in a statement from the White House.
Trump said the penalties would be reimposed if Turkey resumes attacks on the Kurds. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey on Oct. 14, including penalties against three government ministers.
The lira gained against the euro after Trump’s remarks Wednesday.
Trump’s decision on sanctions — and assertion that his approach on Turkey was a success — is likely to reignite bipartisan criticism of the administration’s decision to withdraw forces from northern Syria, exposing U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters to attack by Turkey. Kurds fought alongside American troops against Islamic State in Syria.
Trump says that the cease-fire’s persistence shows his “unconventional” foreign policy approach paid dividends. Shortly after the U.S. pulled out of the region, Turkey invaded and attacked Kurdish fighters, prompting condemnation and sanctions from the White House.
Trump then dispatched U.S. Vice President Mike Pence for meetings in Ankara, where the two sides struck an agreement for a five-day truce intended to allow Kurdish fighters to evacuate an area 120 kilometers long and 30 kilometers deep between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.
“This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else,” Trump said. “We’re willing to take blame and we’re also willing to take credit.”
Trump repeated his stance that the U.S. shouldn’t police the region. “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” he said.
But Trump reiterated previous statements that a small contingent of U.S. forces will remain to guard oil fields in northern Syria, adding cryptically that “we’ll decide what we’re doing with it in the future.”
Critics have charged that the agreement is a functional victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long sought to push Kurdish fighters he considers terrorists from his country’s border, at the expense of the Kurds. But Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday that the Kurds “are safe and have worked very nicely with us.”
On Tuesday, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to a separate pact that would clear Kurdish fighters from a northeastern zone in Syria also bordering Turkey. The agreement between Russia and Turkey has prompted further bipartisan criticism of Trump’s withdrawal.
“The only people who benefit from more violence and more chaos are America’s adversaries: Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, the terror sponsoring dictatorship in Iran, and Islamist extremists in the area and around the world, as shown by the deal that Erdogan struck yesterday with Putin,” Representative Michael McCaul, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at a hearing on the Syria situation on Wednesday.
Trump didn’t directly address the issue of Russia benefiting from the U.S. withdrawal. But at the same time he was speaking, U.S. Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie addressed a conference in Washington, saying “China and Russia are working very hard today to reshuffle the balance of power in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, trying to displace the U.S. from its position of influence in the region.”
“The Russians and Assad and Iran are going to fill the vacuum” left by the U.S. withdrawal, McCaul told Trump’s Syria envoy James Jeffrey.
And Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is usually a close Trump ally, called the Turkey-Russia pact “a non-starter” on Tuesday. “That’s not a sustainable solution.”