Thu, 21 Nov 2019

As a high-level U.S. delegation departed for Turkey seeking a cease-fire in northern Syria, President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw troops from the area and warned of 'devastating' sanctions on Ankara if those talks fail.

He said he believed Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will 'have a successful meeting' in Turkey, where the delegation will try to secure a truce after a weeklong offensive that Ankara launched to clear the area of Kurdish forces and establish a buffer zone to resettle Syrian refugees.

If the talks fail, 'the sanctions, tariffs, other things that we're doing -- will do and are doing -- to Turkey will be devastating to Turkey's economy,' Trump said at a news conference alongside Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Washington.

Trump defended his decision last week to redeploy about 1,000 U.S. soldiers from northern Syria as 'strategically brilliant' for the United States, while saying he had no problem if Russia helped Syria in a conflict with Turkey.

Also on October 16, the House of Representatives condemned Trump's pullout in a resolution that received an overwhelming majority of 354 votes, including 129 from Trump's fellow Republicans.

Kurdish Syrian civilians flee the town of Kobani on the Turkish border on October 16.

The outcome infuriated Trump, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California).

That mood carried over to a closed meeting Trump later had with House Republican and Democratic lawmakers that was meant to review his plans on Syria, she told reporters afterward.

Instead, the meeting descended into diatribe, with Democrats being subjected 'derogatory' language by Trump, Reuters reported, citing several lawmakers who attended the discussion.

Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' during the meeting and soon after she and the other Democrats walked out.

'What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say,' Pelosi said.

Since the U.S. troop withdrawal, the former U.S.-allied Kurds in northeastern Syria have teamed up with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and his ally, Russia, which has stepped in as the biggest power player, sending in patrols to the northern part of the country.

Late on October 16, AP reported that Syrian troops rolled into the strategic border town of Kobani, where the U.S. military and Kurdish fighters had first united to defeat the Islamic State extremist group four years ago.

It's not clear whether Pompeo and Pence will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has so far rejected any attempt to broker a truce.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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