Turkey agreed Thursday to a cease-fire that would suspend its march into Syria and temporarily halt a week of vicious fighting with Kurdish forces, while allowing its President, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government to carve out a long-coveted buffer zone far beyond his nation's borders.
The agreement, announced by the US Vice President, Mr. Mike Pence, after hours of negotiations, appeared to hand Turkey's leader most of what he sought when his military launched an assault on northeastern Syria just over a week ago: the expulsion of Syrian Kurdish militias from the border and the removal of a US threat to impose sanctions on Turkey's vulnerable economy.
Mr. Pence said Turkey had agreed to pause its offensive for five days while the US helped facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish-led forces, called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), from a swath of territory stretching from Turkey's border nearly 20 miles south into Syria. After the completion of the Kurdish withdrawal, Turkey's military operation, which began October 9, would be 'halted entirely,'.
The White House agreed to refrain from imposing new economic sanctions on Turkey and to withdraw sanctions that were imposed earlier this week once 'a permanent cease-fire was in effect,' Mr. Pence said.
Mr. Pence, who negotiated with the Turkish leader at the presidential palace in Ankara, portrayed the agreement as a hard-fought victory and credited his President, Mr. Donald Trump's leadership and Turkey's friendship for its success. The deal delivered Mr. Erdogan concessions he had been unable to win during years of negotiations with the US and vindicated, in some way, his decision to pursue military action instead.
'It's a great day for the US, it's a great day for Turkey,' Mr. Trump told reporters in Texas after the announcement. 'A great day for the Kurds, it's a great day for civilization.'
Mr. Mazloum Kobane Abdi, the commander of the SDF, said on a Kurdish television channel that 'we accepted this agreement, and we will do whatever it takes to make it work.' But the text of the agreement was 'just the beginning,' he said, adding that 'the Turkish occupation will not continue.'
Mr. Pence's whirlwind trip to Turkey came just a week after the start of a military operation that had prompted a hasty withdrawal of US troops from Syria, led to dire warnings about the resurgence of the ISIS group and abruptly caused a humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of people were uprooted from their homes. Dozens were killed in battles, on both sides of the border.
The Trump administration was criticized, even by some of its Republican allies, for abandoning the Syrian Kurdish militias, which partnered with the US military to fight the ISIS.
Mr. Trump's erratic statements about the conflict seemed to make matters worse: On Wednesday he distanced himself from the conflict altogether, saying the fight between Turkey and the Kurds was 'over land that has nothing to do with us.'
As Mr. Pence met with Mr. Erdogan on Thursday, the two refused to smile, even a little, as their meeting got underway, as if to communicate failure before their negotiations had begun.
But afterward, a Turkish official briefed by participants in the talks said the Turkish side was surprised and relieved at how easy the negotiations were. 'We got everything we wanted,' he said.