Pence meets Erdogan to urge halt to Turkey's Syria offensive

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Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met at the Presidential Palace for talks on the Kurds and Syria on Thursday. (AP)
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The appeal for a civilian exit from Ras Al-Ain comes after Turkey's Syrian proxies hit a health facility in the town. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 October 2019

Pence meets Erdogan to urge halt to Turkey's Syria offensive

  • Kurdish-led authority called for a corridor 'to evacuate dead and wounded civilians'
  • Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight

ANKARA: US Vice President Mike Pence met President Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey on Thursday on a mission to persuade him to halt an offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, but Turkish officials said the action would continue regardless.
The assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Daesh fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for President Donald Trump.
Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Daesh’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on Oct. 9.
Trump defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant.” He said he thought Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.
The White House released a letter from Trump to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!” Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict and the letter was “thrown in the trash.”
A Turkish official told Reuters: “The letter Trump sent did not have the impact he expected in Turkey because it had nothing to take seriously.
“What is clear is that Turkey does not want a terrorist organization on its border and the operation will not stop because of the reaction that has been coming.”
Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not speak to reporters before the start of the meeting with Erdogan, but the official said they were likely to convey the same US demands, adding: “However, negotiating with a terrorist organization or turning back from the ongoing operation are not on the agenda.”
On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC that the United States was prepared to levy additional sanctions on if necessary “to keep Turkey in line.”
A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate for the sanctions by its NATO ally.
Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish militia Ankara views as terrorists.
Turkey will end its operation when Kurdish forces withdraw from the “safe zone” and “no power” can deter the operation until it reaches its goals, the Turkish leader said.
Trump has defended his move to withdraw troops from Syria as part of a wider effort to bring US soldiers home from “endless wars,” despite criticism by members of his own Republican Party.
Turkey’s operation has allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad to send his Russian-backed forces to an area that had been beyond his control for years in the more than eight-year-old Syrian war.
It also prompted the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the Kurdish YPG is the main component, to strike a deal with Damascus for its help in countering Turkish forces.
Russia has promised Turkey that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia targeted by the offensive will not be in the Syrian territories across the border, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the BBC on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said Syria should get control over its border with Turkey as part of any settlement of the conflict in the region.
Assad vowed that Syria would respond to the Turkish offensive on any part of its territory with “all legitimate means” available, Syrian state media said on Thursday.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization because of its link to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, and had been infuriated by Washington’s support.
A Reuters cameraman along the Turkish border with Syria said clashes continued around the border town of Ras al Ain on Thursday and that Turkish warplanes were flying overhead after a lull in fighting overnight.
Ankara had previously said it has taken control of Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, two key towns along the frontier.
The region’s Kurdish-led authority called for a corridor “to evacuate dead and wounded civilians” from Ras Al-Ain. It said people were trapped in the town, urging foreign powers including the US-led coalition and Russia, to intervene to get them out.
Syrian troops accompanied by Russian forces have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the British-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV reported that Russian-backed Syrian forces had also set up outposts in Raqqa, the one-time capital of Daesh’s caliphate, which the Kurds captured in 2017 at the peak of their campaign with US support.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said from the Tabqa military air base near Raqqa that Syrian government troops had advanced in that area.
“We entered the Tabqa military airport easily, there was no difficulty,” an army officer told the channel from the base, where Daesh fighters executed scores of Syrian troops and circulated a video of their corpses in 2014.
Soldiers entered Tabqa and nearby villages on Monday, state media said, a deployment that restored the state’s foothold in that part of Syria for the first time in years.
With US air power and special forces, the SDF had battled for weeks in 2017 to take Tabqa and a nearby hydroelectric dam — the country’s largest dam — from Daesh.
The Kurdish-led administration in the region said the Turkish offensive had killed 218 civilians, including 18 children since it started a week ago. The fighting has also wounded more than 650 people, it said.
Turkish authorities say 20 people have been killed in Turkey by bombardment from Syria, including eight people who were killed in a mortar attack on the town of Nusaybin by YPG militants on Friday, according to the local governor’s office.
In Geneva, humanitarian agencies said they were struggling to meet the needs of up to 200,000 civilians who had fled the fighting and reported water shortages in the Syrian city of Hasaka.
The operation has also created a land-rush between Turkey and Russia — now the undisputed foreign powers in the area — to partition Kurdish areas that were formerly under US protection.
Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has called the offensive “unacceptable” and said it must be limited in time and scale.


UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

Updated 12 min 19 sec ago

UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

  • Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia
  • Known as the JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms

VIENNA: Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium and remains in violation of its deal with world powers, the United Nations' atomic watchdog said Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported the finding in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press.
The agency said that as of May 20, Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium amounted to 1,571.6 kilograms (1.73 tons), up from 1,020.9 kilograms (1.1 tons) on Feb. 19.
Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds).
The US pulled out of the deal unilaterally in 2018.
The IAEA reported that Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the JCPOA. It is also above the pact's limitations on heavy water.
The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program. Since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal, Iran has been slowly violating the restrictions.
The ultimate goal of the JCPOA is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb — something that Tehran says it does not want to do. It has been open about the violations and continues to allow IAEA inspectors access to its facilities to monitor their operations.
It is now in violation of all restrictions outlined by the JCPOA, which Tehran says it hopes will pressure the other nations involved to increase economic incentives to make up for hard-hitting sanctions imposed by Washington after the US withdrawal.
Though Iran has been hard hit by the new coronavirus pandemic, the IAEA said it has maintained its verification and monitoring activities in the country, primarily by chartering aircraft to fly inspectors to and from Iran.
It cited “exceptional cooperation” from authorities in Austria, where it is based, and Iran in facilitating the operation.