Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien are traveling to Turkey on Wednesday for a Thursday meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The U.S. delegation will pass on President Trump's demand that Turkey, a NATO ally, halt its invasion of Syria and negotiate a ceasefire with the Kurds, whom Erdogan has vowed to crush. Trump has ordered sanctions on Turkish officials if Ankara doesn't comply.
Late Tuesday, Erdogan pre-emptively rejected Trump's demands, saying Turkey will only end its offensive when the Kurdish fighters drop their weapons and leave the "safe zone" Turkey wants to carve out in northeastern Syria. "They say 'Declare a ceasefire' — we will never declare a ceasefire," Erdogan told reporters en route to Ankara from Azerbaijan. "They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions." On Wednesday, Erdogan told Sky News he wouldn't meet with Pence or Pompeo: "I'm not going to talk to them. They will be talking to their counterparts. When Trump comes here, I'll be talking."
The Kurds, backed by U.S. Special Forces, controlled northeastern Syria area until Trump abruptly announced a U.S. withdrawal after an Oct. 6 phone call with Erdogan. The Kurds then reached a deal with Syria's government and its Russian allies. Russia also sent troops into the area to support the Syrian forces and prevent a direct Turkey-Syria confrontation, and they occupied newly deserted U.S. bases on Tuesday. The pullout of U.S. troops has turned out to be chaotic and dangerous — Turkey and its allies nearly shelled U.S. forces on Friday and were warned off by U.S. Apache gunships on Tuesday as they marched toward U.S. forces. Peter Weber