Trump says US lifting Turkey sanctions as cease-fire holds

VIDEO: REUTERS
Trump speaks about Syria in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House.
Trump speaks about Syria in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump said he is lifting recently imposed sanctions against Turkey after the country complied with a cease-fire agreement with Kurdish forces in Syria.

"The sanctions will be lifted unless something happens that we're not happy with," Trump said Wednesday (Oct 23) morning in a statement from the White House.

Trump said the penalties would be reimposed if Turkey resumes attacks on the Kurds.

The US imposed sanctions on Turkey on Oct 14, including penalties against three government ministers. Trump also raised tariffs on steel imports from Turkey to 50 per cent.

The lira gained against the euro after Trump's remarks on Wednesday.

Trump says that the cease-fire's persistence shows his "unconventional" foreign policy approach paid dividends after his widely criticised decision to remove American troops that served as a buffer between Kurdish and Turkish forces.

Shortly after the US pulled out of the region, Turkey invaded and attacked Kurdish fighters, prompting condemnation and sanctions from the White House.

Trump then dispatched US Vice President Mike Pence for meetings in Ankara, where the two sides struck an agreement for a five-day truce intended to allow Kurdish fighters to evacuate an area 120km long and 30km deep between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. The US said it would hold off on planned sanctions against Turkey if a permanent deal was achieved.

Critics have charged that the agreement is a functional victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long sought to push Kurdish fighters he considers terrorists from his country's border, at the expense of the Kurds, who assisted the US mission against Islamic State in Syria.

But Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday that the Kurds "are safe and have worked very nicely with us."

On Tuesday, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to a separate pact that would clear Kurdish fighters from a northeastern zone in Syria also bordering Turkey. The agreement between Russia and Turkey has prompted further bipartisan criticism of Trump's withdrawal.

"The only people who benefit from more violence and more chaos are America's adversaries: Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, the terror sponsoring dictatorship in Iran, and Islamist extremists in the area and around the world, as shown by the deal that Erdogan struck yesterday with Putin," Representative Michael McCaul, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at a hearing on the Syria situation on Wednesday.

"The Russians and Assad and Iran are going to fill the vacuum" left by the US withdrawal, McCaul told Trump's Syria envoy James Jeffrey.

And Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is usually a close Trump ally, called the Turkey-Russia pact "a non-starter" on Tuesday. "That's not a sustainable solution."