Trump Officials Press for a Cease-Fire After Turkish Incursion in Syria

ANKARA, Turkey — Top Trump administration officials tried on Thursday to persuade Turkey’s president to accept a cease-fire in northern Syria, a position he had already rejected even before they departed Washington, as a Turkish offensive against American-allied Kurdish fighters threatened to fuel Syria’s long civil war.

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Ankara, the capital, amid reports that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had launched the invasion after being warned in a letter by President Trump to not “be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

On their way to a midafternoon meeting with Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Pence and Mr. Pompeo ignored questions from reporters over whether the letter would make their diplomacy on an already-delicate matter more difficult.

The letter was dated Oct. 9, the same day that a Turkish military operation began against Syrian Kurdish fighters who had partnered with American troops against the Islamic State.

“Let’s work out a good deal!” Mr. Trump wrote to Mr. Erdogan. “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.”

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Mr. Trump’s letter concluded.

As the meetings in Ankara unfolded, Mr. Trump’s letter was greeted quizzically by other nations with stakes in Syria’s stability. In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters that it was rare to “encounter such language in correspondence between heads of state.”

“It’s a highly unusual letter,” Mr. Peskov said, according to Reuters.

The new front in the eight-year civil war drew the forces of President Bashar al-Assad to the Kurds’ defense, pitting them against Turkish troops who are backed by Syrian Arab rebels.

Military positions in northern Syria as of Oct. 16

Turkish Army and Syrian opposition Syrian Army deployed U.S. military bases and outposts Russian bases





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Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al Ain

Russian troops are

positioned outside

the city.

KURDISH

Control

Government

Control

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s

proposed

buffer zone

Other

opposition

KURDISH

Control

Deir al-Zour

Government

Control

Mediterranean

Sea

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al Ain

Russian troops are

positioned outside

the city.

KURDISH

Control

Government

Control

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s

proposed

buffer zone

Other

opposition

KURDISH

Control

Deir al-Zour

Government

Control

Mediterranean

Sea

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al Ain

KURDISH

Control

Gov’t

Control

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s

proposed

buffer

zone

KURDISH

Control

Other

opposition

Deir al-Zour

Government

Control


Sources: Times reporting; Control areas as of Oct. 16 via Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit; Military positions for Russia are from the Institute for the Study of War. | By Allison McCann, Sarah Almukhtar, Anjali Singhvi and Jin Wu

Syria will respond to a Turkish aggression on any part of its territory with “all legitimate means” available, President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday, according to state media. The comments came after an agreement between Damascus and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fend off an assault launched by Turkey on northeastern Syria last week.

Russia has been one of Mr. Assad’s strongest supporters in the Syrian civil war. But President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia also has maintained cordial relations with Turkey, including selling Mr. Erdogan’s government a missile defense system that American officials said risks the security of NATO-supplied weapons. The United States and Turkey are NATO members.

It was not clear what could be achieved in Ankara on Thursday as other administration officials expressed concern about a meeting potentially amounting to a too little, too late effort with Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Pence embarked on the mission at Mr. Trump’s request, scrambling to change his schedule. He initially had planned to travel to Wisconsin to promote the administration’s revised North American trade deal this week.

On the flight to Ankara, Mr. Pence was still preparing and talking by phone with Mr. Trump and other administration officials ahead of a scheduled one-on-one meeting with Mr. Erdogan.

The meeting lasted more than an hour on Thursday. Mr. Pence was expected to relay Mr. Trump’s intentions, his expectations of how an American ally and a NATO partner conducts itself, and what next steps, in terms of sanctions, Turkey could expect if it did not agree to a cease-fire.

Mr. Pompeo was expected to join Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Pence at a follow-up discussion. State Department officials said his role was to support Mr. Pence — making clear that the vice president was in charge of the diplomatic effort.

It appeared unlikely the two American leaders would return to Washington with a cease-fire agreement in hand: Mr. Erdogan rejected calls for one as Mr. Pence’s visit was announced.

The stakes were particularly high for Mr. Pence. He flew halfway across the globe with the goal of pressing Mr. Erdogan into a cease-fire, even as Mr. Trump appeared to undercut his mission by declaring that the Turkish offensive against Kurds, longtime American allies, “has nothing to do with us.”

Yonette Joseph contributed reporting from London.


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