Washington, DC.- (GreekNewsOnline)
On Wednesday, November 6, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about reports of ongoing attacks against the Syrian Kurds by Turkey and its proxies outside of the designated safe zone. These attacks, if true, would violate the ceasefire agreements and should prompt immediate action from the Administration.
The Senators write, “Given the stakes, time is of the essence. We ask that you immediately let us know if Turkey and/or its proxy forces are operating outside of the area that runs east-west between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain and south about 30 kilometers to the M4-M10 road. If so, does the Administration plan to impose sanctions on Turkey for violating the October 17 agreement?”
“On several occasions, President Trump has threatened to “destroy Turkey’s economy” should Turkey violate its obligations. In keeping with this position, we ask that the Administration take swift measures to enforce the October 17 agreement with tough economic sanctions. In the meantime, we will continue to work in Congress on the passage of a bipartisan sanctions bill to protect our allies and uphold the credibility of the United States,” they added.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
We write regarding reports that Turkey and Turkish-backed forces are operating outside the agreed-upon “safe zone” in northeast Syria. We ask that the Administration take immediate action against Turkey if these reports are true.
There have been numerous accounts that Turkish and/or Turkish-backed forces are attacking Syrian Kurds near Tal Tamr. If true, these attacks would violate the separate ceasefire agreements Ankara forged with both Washington and Moscow.
As you underscored with Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu on October 31, the United States expects Turkey and Turkish-supported forces to adhere to the agreement reached on October 17. Ambassador James Jeffrey recently testified that this agreement required the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units and the Syrian Democratic Forces to withdraw “roughly 120 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep” in northeast Syria. He stated that the safe zone established between the United States and Turkey extends south to the M4-M10 road. According to the agreement announced by Russia, this safe zone would exist between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain. President Trump subsequently also cited these safe zone parameters and the town of Tal Tamr, the site of reported recent attacks, is outside of the designated safe zone.
In response to a question from Senator Van Hollen at a recent hearing, Ambassador Jeffrey asserted that if Turkey violated the terms of the safe zone agreement his recommendation “would be to return to the sanctions, and that’s where I strongly believe the administration is right now.”
Given the stakes, time is of the essence. We ask that you immediately let us know if Turkey and/or its proxy forces are operating outside of the area that runs east-west between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain and south about 30 kilometers to the M4-M10 road. If so, does the Administration plan to impose sanctions on Turkey for violating the October 17 agreement?
On several occasions, President Trump has threatened to “destroy Turkey’s economy” should Turkey violate its obligations. In keeping with this position, we ask that the Administration take swift measures to enforce the October 17 agreement with tough economic sanctions. In the meantime, we will continue to work in Congress on the passage of a bipartisan sanctions bill to protect our allies and uphold the credibility of the United States.
STATE DEPARTMENT PLAYS
DOWN TURKISH VIOLATIONS
A Senior State Department official who briefed journalists on the situation in northeast Syria, ahead of Ambassador Jeffreys trip to Ankara, played down information about Turkish violations of the cease fire agreement.
The dialogue with a journalist is as follows:
QUESTION: Just quickly, two things: Have the Turks been keeping their end of the bargain in the area in which you established your ceasefire, militarily? And —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Vice President established a ceasefire.
QUESTION: That the Vice – well, the administration established, the Vice President established. And if the Turks were to engage in military action east or west of this specific area against the Kurds, would you consider that a violation of your understandings with them such that it would lead to reimposition of sanctions?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, about – all right, let me parse it. That’s almost a Lara-level set of six questions masquerading as one, but it’s all on one subject at least, so I think I can parse my way through it.
One, it’s not violations because this isn’t an agreement, let alone a treaty. So we would say a breach of the agreement – not agreement – breach of the understanding, or we would use other language than violation. But that’s just a technical point. Michael.
There is no map of coordinates. The language used in the October 17th is Turkish-controlled area. As you, who have been on many a battlefield, as most of the rest of you know, that’s always a quasi-murky term. The Turks are generally holding to the no movement, which is what they basically agreed to, outside of the perimeters.
Now, in that area, which is roughly from Tal – as you’re looking at the map, Tal Abyad on the border in the west down to the road M4, 32 kilometers roughly, and then somewhat east of Ras al-Ayn to the east down to the road – inside that box we have these areas where the Turks were on the 17th, and then areas that they weren’t then and, frankly, aren’t now. But the YPG knew that they had to pull out of all of that area, and they have pulled out of all of that area. They may have some – there was an IED in Tal Abyad. They maybe have some essentially unconventional forces in there, or it could be Daesh. We don’t know. We’re still looking into that incident that killed about a good number of people.
The main issue of contention right now is an area to the east of Ras al-Ayn. Again, as you’re looking at the map, and I should have brought one – I chewed out my staff for not having a map in my last meeting, and where is my staff?
So here’s the road, by and large. That’s Manbij here. Essentially here in this area, the Turks had presence on the 17th, but whether it’s controlled or not is being disputed, and whether that is an area covered by the Russians or not. Because the Russians also didn’t use a map or coordinates. The Russian agreement in paragraph three says other than in the Peace Spring area – and the Peace Spring area is where – what we negotiated with the Turks – you will have this other regime of the Russians and the Syrian Government and the Turks doing the patrols down for 10 kilometers.
So we’re seeing some shelling and shooting in that area. We’re concerned about it. We’re looking into it. We’ve ascertained that there are both Turkish forces and YPG in there. It’s hard to say, depending upon the specific area, who was there on or about the 17th when the fighting stopped. It’s not a major offensive. It doesn’t involve Turkish army forces themselves. It’s basically these Turkish-supported Syrian Arab militias that are in there. And we were very concerned because they were seemingly heading towards the city of Tell Tamer, which is a relatively large Christian area, which everybody acknowledges is outside of wherever the area is. The Turks weren’t there on the 17th of October. The Turks have assured us repeatedly at high levels, and they have gone public, that they’re not trying to take Tell Tamer. We have raised this with them at very high levels again, and they’ve also given us assurances.
So that was the thing we were most concerned about. We’re still watching this closely. And again, having been through a lot of ceasefires, you get a lot of murkiness on where the edges are. We’re still on a where-the-edges-are question as opposed to any major Turkish offensive that would clearly mark a, quote, “violation” of the understandings.