‘Revenge & political pressure’: US House recognizes Armenian genocide and threatens Turkey with new sanctions

Ankara has accused Washington of “exploiting history” for political means after the US House overwhelmingly passed a set of bills acknowledging the 1915 Armenian genocide and calling for fresh sanctions against its NATO ally.

The House voted 405-11 on Tuesday for the measure commemorating the genocide, committed over a century ago by the Turkish Ottoman government, provoking a fierce rebuke from Turkey. This “shameful decision” is “null and void,” tweeted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who called the move an apparent “revenge” for Turkey’s independent foreign policy.

@MevlutCavusoglu Ruined big game w/#OperationPeaceSpring. Those whose projects were frustrated turn to antiquated resolutions.Circles believing that they will take revenge this way are mistaken.This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null&void for our Government&people.

 

Doubling down on their pressure, US lawmakers also voted 403-11 in favor of a measure calling on President Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey’s financial sector and halt arms sales. Ankara said such threats were not befitting of an ally, and would violate a deal struck with the US administration earlier this month.

“We urge the US Congress not to exploit bilateral issues for domestic political consumption and to act in line with the spirit of our Alliance and partnership,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

Also on rt.com ‘Arrogant & illegal’: Lavrov denounces US military’s oil moves in Syria at Russian-Turkish-Iranian press event...

Ties between the two NATO allies have suffered in recent weeks over their conflicting missions in Syria, where Washington maintains an illegal occupation of oil fields, and spent years embedded with Kurdish militias Ankara accuses of terrorism. A Turkish cross-border operation launched earlier this month to push Kurdish fighters away from the Syrian-Turkish borderline sparked intense protest from US lawmakers, who accused President Donald Trump of ‘betraying’ US allies.

The sanctions threat was “a disappointment to say the least,” Turkish lawmaker Ravza Kavakci told RT, adding that “instead of working together with Turkey,” Washington has chosen to support a Kurdish “terrorist group as their boots on the ground.”

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Turkey "Heading In Wrong Direction" Over Syria: US

Brussels, Belgium: Turkey is "heading in the wrong direction" with its incursion into Syria and its deal with Russia to jointly patrol a "safe zone" there, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Thursday.

"Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation" by sweeping into northern Syria this month to fight Kurdish militia allied with the US in the fight against the Islamic State group, Mark Esper told a conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO defence ministers' meeting.

"I think the incursion's unwarranted," Mark Esper said.

The onus was on Turkey's NATO allies to now "work together to strengthen our partnership with them, and get them on the trend back to being the strong reliable ally of the past," he said.

The issue of Turkey's military offensive in Syria is set to dominate the two-day NATO meeting, with diplomats in the organisation saying "frank" discussions with Ankara's representatives have already taken place.

A subsequent arrangement with Russia to clear Kurdish militia that Turkey regards as "terrorists" linked to the outlawed PKK group on its soil has also raised hackles.

Yet, while isolated in NATO, Turkey's strategic position between Europe and the Middle East is seen as too important to jeopardise, so the other alliance members have limited themselves to criticism only.

Mark Esper defended the US decision to pull US forces out of northern Syria, effectively opening the path to the Turkish operation.

"The US decision to withdraw less than 50 soldiers from the zone of attack was made after it was made very clear to us that President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan made the decision to come across the border," he said.

He added that "I was not about to put less than 50 US soldiers in between a 15,000-man-plus Turkish army preceded by Turkish militia and jeopoardise the lives of those servicemen". Nor was he "about to start a fight with a NATO ally," he said.

Mark Esper acknowledged "there has been some criticism" about the US withdrawal "but nobody's yet offered a better alternative to what the United States did. We are trying to keep a very strategic perspective."

In his speech and question-and-answer session at the event hosted by the German Marshall Fund think tank, Mark Esper highlighted threats he said were posed by Iran, Russia and, especially and above all, China.

"NATO allies should be looking east," to China, he said, stating that Beijing's "heavy hand" was being seen politically, militarily and economically not only in Asia but further abroad, including into Europe with its "belt-and-road" project.

Adoption by NATO allies of China's Huawei company to build 5G telecoms networks would be a threat to intel-sharing within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, he said.

"I'll counsel our allies -- if Huawei becomes your provider of choice, this will affect our ability to share intelligence. We can't trust those networks," he said, adding: "We need to address those threats with eyes wide open."

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U.S. to Try Diplomacy in Turkey as Russian Forces Swoop Into Syria

President Trump on Tuesday said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would travel to Turkey with Vice President Mike Pence, who will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday where, the White House said, Mr. Pence will reiterate the administration’s commitment to maintain sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached.

Congressional leaders from both parties are set to visit the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with Mr. Trump on Turkey. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is set to attend, her first meeting with the president since she kicked off the impeachment inquiry.

Administration opposition to the Turkish assault has heightened since Mr. Trump on Oct. 6 ordered a U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria in a statement that said the U.S. “will not support” the incursion. After bipartisan political criticism, U.S. officials on Friday threatened sanctions if Turkey didn’t agree to a cease-fire, and imposed some of the measures on Monday.

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As roughly 1,000 U.S. troops work their way out of Syria, American forces Tuesday put on a show of force when members of a Turkish-backed militia came dangerously close to a U.S. position, officials said. American F-15 fighters and Apache attack helicopters flew overhead, and the Turkish-backed force retreated. No shots were fired on either side, officials said.

“It’s a volatile, dangerous situation and we are focused on doing an orderly and deliberate withdrawal…with the number one priority being the protection of our forces,” an official said.

As U.S. troops departed, Russian forces were patrolling the line between Turkish and Syrian armies in and around the city of Manbij, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, demonstrating the country’s growing role as a power broker in the multisided conflict. American forces have left the city, a U.S. military spokesman said, as part of a broader pullout from northeast Syria, where they had joined with Kurdish allies in a coalition fighting Islamic State.

After Mr. Trump withdrew from that partnership, Kurdish fighters in the area sought to shield themselves from a week-old Turkish offensive by striking an alliance with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian military convoys have begun moving into positions across the northeast of the country, where the army had only a token presence since the start of the war.

U.S. officials acknowledged the arrival of the Syrian and Russian forces into areas that had been under U.S. control only a week ago. Some of them are now in proximity to Turkish forces, a senior Trump administration official said.

The movement of Russian troops and the departure of American forces from the area have led both sides to use a military deconfliction channel that had been set up by U.S. and Russian commanders, the official said. As of Tuesday, the number of Russian military forces near Manbij was relatively small, “not even hundreds,” the official said.

The U.S. pullback has created an opening for Moscow to expand its clout in a region dominated for decades by American influence but now unsettled by Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and his stated desire to disengage from the Middle East.

“The Russians think of themselves as the natural player in the grand design of the geopolitics of the region,” said Malik R. Dahlan, a Saudi lawyer and senior fellow at the Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

The U.S. departure smooths Russia’s way to ensure it retains control over much of Syria’s natural resources. Russia’s decision to intervene was heavily influenced by the investments Moscow had made there since Soviet times.

Before the Syrian war, Russian companies had invested more than $10 billion to build gas-processing facilities, pipelines and pump oil. That activity stopped as fighting raged, and Syrian oil assets had traded hands in the heaviest years of fighting and at one point were controlled by Kurdish groups and protected by U.S. troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has showed a willingness to foster friendships of his own with U.S. allies as well as its adversaries. He has developed strong ties not only with Mr. Assad, but also with Mr. Erdogan, whose country is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Mr. Putin arrived on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where Russian officials said they planned to sign 10 investment agreements valued at a total of $1.3 billion. Russia signed billions of dollars in deals a day earlier in Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally that for decades had been a Cold War adversary of Moscow.

Such traditional U.S. allies are grappling with Mr. Trump’s efforts to scale back Washington’s footprint in the region. After the U.S. troop withdrawal in Syria paved the way for the Turkish offensive, Mr. Erdogan said Turkey had seized significant territory, now controlling about 386 square miles of territory in northeastern Syria. He said Turkey would continue to press the campaign to secure an area about 10 times larger between Manbij and the Iraqi border.

“We will continue our struggle until the north of Syria is green again,” Mr. Erdogan said in a televised speech from Baku, Azerbaijan.

Moscow said it would prevent any serious conflicts from erupting between Syrian government forces and Turkish troops. “It’s not that no one is interested in conflict, it’s unacceptable, and therefore we won’t allow it,” said Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s special envoy to the Syria crisis, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Mr. Lavrentiev said Moscow hoped the U.S. would soon pull all of its forces out of the country. “Regardless of Trump’s statements about the withdrawal of U.S. troops in two weeks, it’s hard to say what the final result will be,” Interfax reported him as saying. “But there’s hope.”

Russia has long criticized the presence of the U.S. in Syria, where it allied with Kurdish fighters who were seeking self-rule. Russia entered at Mr. Assad’s request in 2015 to help roll back the gains of antigovernment rebels.

One battle in February 2018 saw the U.S. kill a number of Russian mercenaries who were likely fighting for a pro-Assad militia.

The latest phase of the eight-year Syrian conflict threatens to unleash a wave of refugees. Iraq is bracing for an influx of as many as a quarter of a million people. The semiautonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq already hosts more than 200,000 refugees from Syria. Around 450 people have crossed the border from Syria in the past two days, authorities in northern Iraq said.

Turkey’s incursion has displaced some 130,000 people from their homes in northeast Syria since it began one week ago, the United Nations said. The majority have remained within the country, moving away from the border to seek sanctuary from the fighting.

The U.S. has evacuated a small contingent of American diplomats and began relocating troops from smaller front-line bases to larger ones that are easier to defend or father from the fighting.

Mr. Trump has dismissed criticism for exposing a U.S. ally with his decision to pull troops from Syria. On Monday, he authorized sanctions and raised steel tariffs on Turkey, threatening more-powerful financial penalties unless Ankara halted its offensive.

At least 71 civilians have been killed in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said six of them were executed by Turkish-backed fighters along the M4 highway running along the border. A senior Trump administration official on Tuesday attributed the executions to Turkish-supported Syrian opposition elements being used by Ankara as part of its military assault.

“The Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army are conducting an extremely meticulous operation without inflicting even slightest harm to civilians,” the Turkish presidency’s communications department said on Tuesday.

Ankara could have employed traditional military units to conduct its operation, the official said, but “instead they decided to use these thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth.” The unit affiliated with those killings is “a well-known jihadist element,” the official added.

Turkey has long relied on such Syrian proxy groups, as it did in 2016 and 2018 when Ankara launched its two previous military offensives in Syria. For years, U.S. officials had rejected demands that American forces work with Turkey’s Syrian proxies because of U.S. concerns about their links to extremist groups and questions about their professionalism.

Pentagon officials said they have “significant concerns” about the militias backed by Turkey. “The Turks have committed to us that they will have control over those forces, but it’s a continued concern, especially after you unleash a force like that,” the official said.

“In terms of counterterrorism, we have never been subjected to a double standard as the one we are now facing in Syria,” Mr. Erdogan said.

For the U.S., “goal No. 1 is to carry out diplomacy, to try to find a cease-fire and get the situation under control,” a senior Trump administration official said, citing the current confusion and risk to U.S. troops, the fight against Islamic State, the detention of nearly 10,000 prisoners, and the management of internally displaced persons camps.

The official denounced Ankara’s suggestions that the U.S. had provided Kurdish-led forces in Syria with heavy weapons, saying it has given the Syrian Democratic Forces mainly small arms and mortars.

Russia’s taking the place of U.S. troops in northeast Syria surprised even some of its security officials as to how quickly Moscow emerged with a commanding position in the conflict.

“It’s an unusual development in our relationship with the U.S. to see Washington voluntarily hand over a territory to a Russian sphere of influence,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of a Kremlin defense and foreign-policy advisory board. “But we’ll take it.”

Corrections & Amplifications Russia’s military entered the Syrian conflict in 2015. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Russia entered in 2016. (Oct. 15, 2019)

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Syria’s Kurds strike deal with Assad after being abandoned by US

Kurdish-led forces in Syria have struck a deal with Bashar al-Assad’s government to hand over areas along the border to the Syrian army in a last ditch effort to halt a Turkish attack.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the west’s key allies in the fight against Isis, said the army would deploy along the border with Turkey “to repel this aggression and liberate the areas entered by the Turkish army and its hired mercenaries”.

The deal was struck in response to a wide-scale military operation launched by Turkey against the SDF last week, which has killed more than 60 civilians and sparked fears of ethnic cleansing.

Turkey’s armed forces and allied Syrian rebels have made rapid gains in the past week, taking control of two cities along the border and threatening to advance further. General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, commander of the SDF, described the operation as an “existential threat” to Syria’s Kurds.

The agreement could spell the end of a years-long experiment in autonomy led by Syria’s Kurds, and marks a major shift in alliances for the embattled community.

Turkey has long threatened to attack the SDF, which it considers a terror organisation for its links to a Kurdish separatist group that has fought the Turkish state for decades. Ankara said its military operation was launched to implement a “safe zone” along its border with Syria, free of SDF fighters.

But the SDF – a mostly Kurdish militia with a smaller Arab contingent – has been a key ally of the US in the fight against Isis. The presence of US troops in Syria alongside the group had acted as a deterrence for a Turkish assault. That changed quickly last week when Donald Trump made a shock announcement that the US would not stand in the way of Turkey’s plans to enter Syria. The SDF described the abrupt shift as a “stab in the back”.

The deal will see the Syrian army deployed along a large stretch of the Turkey-Syria border, the SDF said, in an effort to deter any further Turkish incursion.

The agreement brings its own dangers, however. For decades, Kurds in Syria have faced repression and discrimination at the hands of the government. Although the civil war had caused great upheaval for the community, it has also allowed them to win new freedoms, which may now be lost again.

yria’s Kurds took over control of majority Kurdish areas from the government shortly after the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, but largely refrained from directly fighting it.

In the time since, it extended that area of control beyond Kurdish areas as it recaptured territory held by Isis.

Over the past few years it has built an alternative form of governance in the areas under its control, with the eventual aim of creating an autonomous administration that would outlast the war.

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Trump says US not abandoning Kurds, again threatens ‘partner’ Turkey with economic devastation

The withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria does not amount to abandoning the Kurds, Donald Trump said in the wake of criticism at home. He claims Turkey faces devastation if there is ‘unnecessary fighting’ against them.

Trump took to Twitter to justify his decision to pull US troops back from their positions on the Syrian border with Turkey, which potentially exposes Kurdish militias to an attack by the Turkish military. Contrary to what many critics of the move say, the US has “in no way… Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” the US leader said.

While we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency,” Trump tweeted, doubling down on Monday’s threat to destroy the Turkish economy, if the country wages war against Syria’s Kurds.

Also on rt.com Trump threatens to OBLITERATE Turkey’s economy if it does ‘anything off limits’....

Kurdish militias played a key role in fighting terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in northeastern Syria, with the US providing air support, weapons, and training. The empowerment of the Kurdish forces alarmed Ankara, which considers them terrorists and an extension of Turkey’s domestic Kurdish guerrillas. Trump announced his surprise decision to pull US troops back from the border just as Turkey was amassing its forces there for what appears to be preparation for a massive anti-Kurdish operation in Syria. Ankara wants to create a so-called “safe zone” along the border, where Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey would be relocated.

The US President also said the Turks “have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province,” the last remaining hotbed of jihadism in Syria. The area in northern Syria was insulated from a military offensive by Russia-backed Syrian government forces at Ankara’s request. Turkey feared such an operation would cause another massive influx of refugees into its territory.

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‘Time to get out of these ridiculous endless wars’: Trump orders US pullback from Syrian border before Turkish operation begins

It’s time for the US to “get out of ridiculous endless wars,” President Donald Trump said ahead of a withdrawal of US troops from border areas in northeastern Syrian as the Turkish military prepares for an anti-Kurdish incursion.

“The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight,” Trump said in a Twitter thread on Monday just as US troops stationed in northeastern Syria were reportedly pulling back from their positions.

@realDonaldTrump .....again said “NO,” thinking, as usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything. The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for....

@realDonaldTrump ....almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to.....
 

Trump claimed credit for “quickly” defeating the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria before explaining why he apparently chose to abandon Kurdish militias, who fought that battle with US air and artillery support, in their stand-off with Turkey.

“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” he said.

“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood.’ They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!” the US president added.

Trump also complained about US’ failure to take responsibility for trying and jailing its citizens who went to Syria to join IS and were later captured by the Kurds. The US will not be a “sucker” to Europe on any issue, Trump declared.

Also on rt.com US begins pulling out from Turkish border areas in Syria – Kurdish forces....

The US president’s apparent washing of hands comes as Turkey prepares for an invasion into Syria targeting Kurdish militias, whom Ankara considers a terrorist force allied with a Kurdish insurgency on Turkey’s own territory. Turkey wants to establish a “safety zone” along the border between the two countries, arguing that as a side benefit it will allow Syrian refugees, currently residing in Turkey, to return to their country.

The Syrian Kurds earlier said Washington failed to deliver on its commitment to protect them from the Turkish onslaught.

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Turkey welcomes Maduro’s pact with Venezuelan opposition groups

Turkey on Tuesday voiced support for a series of agreements Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro signed with some opposition factions on Monday.

The agreements included the return of the government's deputies to the opposition-controlled legislature and the establishment of a national dialogue platform for ongoing negotiations.

"I welcome the signing of the agreements reached at the dialogue table with the opposition," Maduro said in a Facebook post in which he shared a five-page document signed by Venezuelan officials and representatives of minor opposition parties.

The signatories did not include Juan Guaido, the U.S.-backed opposition leader who announced Sunday that negotiations with the Maduro administration were dead. The agreement marks the first significant split in the Venezuelan opposition.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry reiterated in a statement Tuesday Ankara's support for a principled approach seeking a sustainable solution to the crisis through political dialogue in line with the will of the Venezuelan people.

"With this understanding, we welcome the agreement reached between the Venezuelan Government and some opposition parties in Caracas yesterday (16 September)," the Foreign Ministry said.

"We think this is an important and encouraging step toward a solution. In terms of maintaining social, political and economic stability in Venezuela, it is of great importance that all parties support this promising initiative," the statement added.

The talks agreed to on Monday will focus on reforming Venezuela's electoral board as well as finding a solution to the impasse caused by the creation of a pro-government constitutional assembly to rival the opposition-controlled congress.

Venezuela's government said Monday its deputies will return to the opposition-controlled legislature, which they walked out of three years ago.

"In the interests of deepening and extending the dialogue... the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its allied factions will return to the National Assembly," said communications minister Jorge Rodriguez.

Deputies from the ruling Socialist Party walked out of the National Assembly in 2016 after losing control in elections, and the government set up its own body, the Constituent Assembly.

Guaido, the speaker of the National Assembly, earlier this year declared himself interim president with the backing of the United States and other western powers, saying elections that returned Maduro to power had been undermined by fraud.

The National Assembly has maintained its composition of 112 opposition lawmakers and 55 government loyalists.

On Sunday, more than five weeks after Maduro's government pulled out of Norwegian-mediated negotiations to seek a way out of Venezuela's crisis, Guaido said that talks had collapsed.

The government and the opposition, which is seeking Maduro's resignation, launched the talks in July. The negotiations followed a previous round of talks in Oslo in May.

Maduro called off the talks, which were initially held in Oslo and then moved to Barbados, on Aug. 7 in response to U.S. sanctions against his government.

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Turkish military enters Syria to begin joint US ‘safe zone’ patrol

Armed Turkish military vehicles crossed into Syria on Sunday and headed southwest with US counterparts to begin planned joint patrols to establish a “safe zone” along a border region mainly controlled by Kurdish forces.

According to the report by Reuters, vehicles with Turkish flags joined those in Syria with US flags some 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of the Turkish border town of Akcakale, near Syria’s Tel Abyad. Two military helicopters were seen overhead.

The region east of the Euphrates river is mainly controlled by Kurdish YPG forces, US allies that Ankara has labelled terrorists because it says they have links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.

After intensive negotiations, Turkey and the United States have also set up a joint operation centre but have so far disagreed over the zone’s depth and over the command structure of the forces to operate there.

The NATO allies have conducted multiple joint helicopter patrols over the area. Turkey, which hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees after eight years of war south of its border, hopes to resettle 1 million refugees in northern Syria.

“Our geography is an advantage, but we are at a disadvantage in terms of migration and terror,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a CNN Turk interview Sunday.

“If US forces can patrol in the east of Euphrates with our forces and can enter with their own troops, and if there are the (Turkish) observation points in Idlib (in northwest Syria), this is all due to the steps taken by Turkey.”

With US backing over the last four years, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance that the YPG spearheads has taken control of much of northeastern Syria from Islamic State militants.

Many of the inhabitants of the predominately Arab area that is expected to comprise the safe zone – including Tel Abyad, Ras al Ain and several Arab villages – had fled to Turkey fearing reprisals by the YPG on charges they had links to Islamic State.

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