Turkey deal may ease domestic criticism of Trump but doubts remain

Washington (AFP) –


Turkey's agreement to suspend military operations against the Syrian Kurds may give President Donald Trump a reprieve from accusations he abandoned the US allies but it is also being seen as a capitulation to the Turks, analysts said.

Vice President Mike Pence announced after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Ankara had agreed to suspend its Syria offensive for five days and end it if Kurdish forces withdraw from a "safe zone" along the border.

Trump has been under fire from Democrats and some Republican supporters for abruptly withdrawing US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to launch the offensive against the Kurds, US allies against the Islamic State group.

Trump welcomed the Ankara agreement, calling it a "great day" for the United States, Turkey and the Kurds, and heaped praise on Erdogan, saying he "did the right thing."

Nicholas Danforth, a fellow for the German Marshall Fund, said the US and Turkey had "reached a deal that both can try to sell to domestic audiences as a victory, but will have little impact on the ground."

In Washington, the announcement did appear to -- at least temporarily -- take some of the Republican heat off the president although not from his Democratic opponents.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has been one of Trump's staunchest defenders but has been harshly critical of his decision to pull US troops out of Syria.

Graham had been poised with a Democratic colleague to introduce tough sanctions against Turkey in the Senate when the deal was announced.

"Sounds like we may have made real progress regarding a cease-fire and hopefully a sustainable solution that will prevent the reemergence of ISIS and the abandonment of our ally, the Kurds," Graham tweeted.

"I stand ready to continue working with the President to build upon this breakthrough."

To reporters, however, Graham stressed that he does not trust Erdogan and he was "going to keep working" to get the sanctions bill to the Senate floor.

- 'Let this play out a bit' -

Senator Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the deal, saying "any time you can broker a disengagement it's a good thing."

"Is it perfect? Probably not," he added. "Let's let this play out a bit and see what happens."

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was less impressed.

"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," Rubio told reporters.

Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy on fighting the Islamic State group, was also less than enthused.

The United States "just ratified Turkey's plan to effectively extend its border 30 kilometers (18 miles) into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground," said McGurk, who quit in December, the first time Trump raised the prospect of pulling US troops out of Syria.

Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, issued a scathing statement saying Erdogan had "given up nothing, and President Trump has given him everything."

"The president's decision to reverse sanctions against Turkey for brutally attacking our Kurdish partners in exchange for a sham ceasefire seriously undermines the credibility of America's foreign policy and sends a dangerous message to our allies and adversaries alike that our word cannot be trusted," they said.

Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, took issue with Trump's characterization that it was a great day for the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

"The United States just agreed to try to force the SDF to surrender its homeland along the Syrian-Turkish border to Turkey," Heras said.

"This deal was made between President Trump and Erdogan, and for all intents and purposes, it cut the SDF out of the discussion."

"The terms of the deal are exactly what Turkey most desired, which is the forced expulsion of the SDF from its border," Heras added. "Erdogan could not have asked for more from Trump in this situation."

He expressed incredulity at Pence's assertion that the SDF could still be expected to wage operations against the Islamic State group, calling it "surreal."

"The Americans are putting their head in the sand if they expect the SDF to willingly abide by these terms," he said.