US President Donald Trump said a ceasefire in northern Syria is permanent and lifted sanctions on Turkey as a result, rejecting criticism of his decision to pull out US troops that allowed Kurdish allies to come under attack.
In a White House speech, Trump described the truce as a “major breakthrough” negotiated by a team led by Vice President Mike Pence. Trump instructed Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin to rescind sanctions on Turkey after it attacked the Kurds “unless something happens we are not happy with”.
“Countless lives are now being saved as a result of our negotiation with Turkey, an outcome reached without spilling one drop of American blood: no injuries, nobody shot, nobody killed,” Trump said.
He said he may meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan soon.
The speech failed to blunt attacks from US lawmakers over Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw troops from north-eastern Syria clearing the way for the Turkish incursion. Congress was still working on a sanctions package of its own to punish Turkey for its cross-border offensive.
Kurdish allies who helped the US in its war against Islamic State militants felt abandoned by Trump, whose policy created an opening Russia capitalised on moving forces into the area. The fate of Islamic State militants in Syrian Kurdish prisons remains uncertain.
A senior Trump administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, said most ISIS (Islamic State) fighters remained under lock and key, it appeared a small number had escaped from prisons. Turkey was responsible for rounding them up, he said.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the situation with the ISIS fighters,” the official said.
The official also expressed wariness about Russia’s movement of forces into the area as part of an agreement with Turkey.
There is no indication Turkish forces attacked local populations as feared by critics, the official said.
The controversy over Trump’s Syria pull-out contributed to a climate of chaos in Washington, where Democrats are seeking to remove Trump through impeachment over attempts to have Ukraine investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor to excoriate Trump.
“Three weeks after announcing the troop withdrawal, the president does not seem to have a clear strategy for securing the enduring defeat of ISIS and fixing the mess he’s created in Syria,” said Schumer.
Trump continued his drumbeat of criticism of past US efforts to keep American forces in the Middle East.
The United States will “let someone else fight over this long, bloodstained sand,” he said.