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Trump lifts Turkey sanctions, declaring success in Syria as Turkey and Russia fill void

Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered an end to economic sanctions against Turkey, declaring success for his policy despite a widespread belief among lawmakers of his own party and foreign policy experts that the U.S. withdrawal from the region has been a victory for Turkey and Russia.

"The sanctions will be lifted unless something happens that we're not happy with," Trump said, adding that "this was a situation created by us."

"Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand," Trump added, although he also said a small number of troops would remain in Syria to secure oil reserves, a goal he often voices when discussing the region.

Trump's abrupt decision earlier this month to pull a small group of American troops out of northern Syria cleared the way for Turkey to invade the area, driving the United States' former allies, the Kurds, to flee territories they had spent years securing. The Kurds did the bulk of the fighting in recent years against the Islamic State militias, also known as ISIS, helping the U.S. achieve a major goal of driving the Islamic State out of territories they controlled in Syria and Iraq.

The Kurdish withdrawal has allowed at least some people associated with Islamic State to escape from prisons where they were being guarded by Kurdish forces. Trump ignored a question about the detainees as he left the White House Diplomatic Room where he made his announcement.

The sanctions Trump lifted had been imposed by his administration just over a week ago to punish Turkey for the incursion into Syria. The administration acted after bipartisan outrage over Trump's failure to protect the Kurdish population in northern Syria.

 

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Turkey, where he negotiated a cease-fire with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan under which Turkey agreed to a five-day pause in its invasion. The pause allowed Kurdish fighters to flee the region, although it left behind tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians who now face an uncertain fate. The pause also allowed Turkey to secure its gains in northern Syria and Russia to move into the vacuum left behind by the U.S. withdrawal.

Under the agreement, the administration said it would lift sanctions once the cease-fire became permanent. Trump said that had now been achieved, though he quickly added that he's skeptical of any claims of permanence in the Middle East.

Trump said the time had come for the U.S. to wash its hands of involvement in the region, despite past assurances to the Kurds that the U.S. would defend them in return for their service against Islamic State.

"Turkey, Syria and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," he said. "We have done them a great service. We've done a great job for all of them, and now we're getting out."

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