Lira buoyed as Erdogan and Pence agree 120-hour pause of Turkey’s Syria incursion

By bne IntelliNews October 17, 2019

The Turkish lira (TRY) pulled back from 5.93 to the dollar to 5.82 on the evening of October 17 as talks between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence produced an agreement on a 120-hour pause of Turkish military operations in Syria.

The news came as a ‘Syria invasion’ bill was presented by US Republican and Democrat senators that would go as far as forbidding US entities from purchasing Turkish sovereign debt. One analyst said that if adopted the drafted legislation would be “lights out” for Turkey.

Pence said the pause could be extended into a permanent ceasefire if Kurdish fighters formerly allied with the US in the fight against Islamic State—but abandoned by US President Donald Trump in a move that critics said cleared the way for the Turkish incursion—left the Turkish-Syrian border region in northeast Syria.

Pence added that the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) had provided assurances that they would make a “safe and orderly withdrawal.”

General Mazloum Kobane of the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) confirmed the ceasefire deal in comments to a local television station on the night of October 17. However, he said it only applied to the area between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, both of which have seen heavy fighting.  Kurd critics complained that the deal gave the Turks what they had aimed to achieve with the military operation in the first place, namely the removal of Kurdish-led forces from the border.

“Our people did not want this war. We welcome the ceasefire, but we will defend ourselves in the event of any attack … Ceasefire is one thing and surrender is another thing, and we are ready to defend ourselves. We will not accept the occupation of northern Syria,” Kurdish political leader Saleh Muslim said in remarks on local television.

“We’ve previously stated that Turkey’s proposal of entering a depth of 30 km inside Syrian territories is rejected,” Aldar Xelil, another senior political figure, was quoted by Al Arabiya as stating.

“We think the agreement today first ends the violence, which is what President Trump sent us here to do,” Pence said. He declined to describe any concessions made by Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the accord did not amout to a ceasefire, but only to a pause as a ceasefire could only be struck by two legitimate sides and the Kurdish forces were illegitimate. He proceeded to boast that Turkey had obtained what it wanted from the US. Top of the demands made by Ankara was that Turkish armed forces will be able to oversee a 20-mile-deep “safe zone” stretching 270 miles inside Syria along the border.

As part of the agreement, Pence said no further US sanctions would be imposed on Turkey and that Washington would pull existing sanctions if a permanent ceasefire took effect after the pause.

There were concerns that the one-page declaration on the pause did not make it clear whether it would be absolute. Under the terms of the agreement, Turkey and the US agreed that “counter-terrorism operations must target only terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment.” Turkey considers the Kurdish-led forces in Syria to be terrorists. It claims to fear they could back insurgency efforts that have been waged for autonomy inside Turkey by Kurds since 1984.

Pence was accompanied by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in some of the Ankara talks with Erdogan. The visit was essentially quickly put together after bipartisan criticism of Trump’s decision to pull back US forces in northern Syria and leave the Kurds to fend for themselves kept mounting.

“Great news out of Turkey!”  Trump tweeted just before Pence announced the pause. “Millions of lives will be saved.”

He added later: "This deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some "tough" love in order to get it done. Great for everybody. Proud of all!"

"I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path," Mr Trump added on Twitter.

The Kurdish forces this week struck a deal with Damascus for Russia-backed Syrian forces of the Syrian regime to help them stave off the advance of the Turkish armed forces. By the end of October 18, Damascus and Moscow were yet to offer comment on the agreement between Pence and Erdogan.

A ceasefire announced by the United States to end hostilities in northern Syria with Turkey is “vague,” a senior adviser to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad told Al-Mayadeen TV on Thursday.

However, top adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, was cited by Reuters as saying Damascus “cannot accept” another Iraqi Kurdistan in Syria.

Shaaban added that “important steps” had been taken so far with the SDF, but that all remaining issues could not be resolved at once.

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