(CNSNews.com) – Hours before he flew to Turkey late Wednesday in response to that country’s invasion of northeastern Syrian, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that President Trump may yet adjust his recent decision to withdraw most of the U.S. troops in Syria.
“My experience with the president is that he makes decisions and then absorbs data and facts, evaluates situations,” Pompeo told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, after she asked whether Trump could yet “change his thinking on this, and leave this couple thousand troops on the ground.”
“If we need to adjust our policy to achieve our goals in which – the president is always very focused on what’s the objective, what is it we’re really, truly trying to achieve,” he continued.
“If we conclude that we need to adjust our policy to achieve those goals, I’m confident that the team will make that recommendation, that the president will move in that direction, if he concludes it’s the right thing to do, to make sure that we protect America.”
(Earlier in the interview, Pompeo had summarized the “objective” as waging “counterterrorism all around the world in an effective way to protect the American people.”)
Trump says he has ordered the withdrawal of most of the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria. In a statement on Monday he said they would be redeployed elsewhere “in the region to monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of 2014,” when ISIS jihadists seized territory across Syria and Iraq.
‘We are not looking for a mediator’
Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence flew out of Andrews Air Force Base on Air Force Two later Wednesday, in a bid to halt President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s week-long offensive targeting Syrian Kurds formerly allied to the U.S., which was launched after Trump pulled back a small number of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.
They are scheduled to meet with Erdogan on Thursday to seek an immediate ceasefire and ways to mediate between the Turks and Syrian Kurds. The White House said the vice president will “reiterate President Trump’s commitment to maintain punishing economic sanctions on Turkey unless a resolution is reached.”
Mediation, however, is not on Erdogan’s agenda; he views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters who allied with the U.S. to defeat ISIS as “terrorists,” due to their affiliation to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Erdogan wants to clear the YPG from Syrian territory near the Turkish border and create a “buffer zone” where millions of Syrians displaced in the civil war and now housed in Turkey can be resettled.
(The PKK has waged a four-decade armed campaign seeking first a separate state, and later autonomy, for Turkey’s large Kurdish minority. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost during the conflict, although analysts struggle to determine accurate breakdown of PKK fighters, security force members, and civilians killed by both sides. The PKK is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization; the YPG is not.)
Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday that he had told Trump, in a phone conversation one day earlier, that Turkey would never negotiate with “terrorists.”
“I told him, we will not sit at the same table with the terrorist organization. I do not find it right that a country such as U.S. comes between its ally Turkey and a terrorist organization,” he said.
Erdogan added that Turkey “will never declare a ceasefire.”
On Wednesday he doubled down, telling lawmakers from the ruling AK Party that “The Republic of Turkey never in its history sat down around a table with terrorist groups. We are not looking for a mediator for that.”
‘We need to have a residual force in place’
Before Pence and Pompeo flew out, the House of Representatives passed, in a 354-60 vote, a joint resolution opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw the troops.
All 60 “no” votes came from Republicans but, reflecting divisions within the president’s party over the move, 129 other Republicans voted in favor. They included such Trump allies as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)
The resolution, co-authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), opposes the decision “to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria.”
It calls on Erdogan to immediately halt the military action, and on the U.S. government to “work to ensure that the Turkish military acts with restraint and respects existing agreements relating to Syria.”
The resolution also “calls on the White House to present a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
Speaking on the House floor in support of the measure, McCaul said the U.S. troop presence in Syria had been “critical to countering and defeating ISIS, and until last week, helped prevent unnecessary bloodshed.”
“I understand the administration’s legitimate concerns about engaging our U.S. forces in long-term military operations,” he said. “I too want to wind down our overseas conflicts and bring our troops home.”
“But leaving northeast Syria now does not resolve the problems that brought us there in the first place, it only creates more,” McCaul argued. “We need to have a residual force in place. The consequences of this decision have already unfolded before our very eyes.”