Donald Trump said he would remove sanctions imposed on Turkey to punish Ankara for launching an offensive against US-backed Kurdish militants, as he claimed the credit for ending the fighting in north-east Syria.
The US president’s decision comes a day after Turkey and Russia reached a deal to push the Kurdish forces from a so-called safe zone along the border and conduct joint patrols in the area, from which American troops have withdrawn. That agreement was struck as a five-day truce between Ankara and the Kurdish forces brokered by the US was about to expire.
“This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else, no other nation. Very simple. And we’re willing to take the blame and we’re willing to take the credit,” Mr Trump said. “The sanctions will be lifted unless something happens we’re not happy with.”
Mr Trump has been criticised by US lawmakers, including members of his Republican party, for abandoning Washington’s local ally in Syria, and handing a strategic victory to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and his two main foreign backers Russia and Iran.
The Kurdish militants dominate the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group that the US armed and trained to spearhead the fight against Isis in north-east Syria.
After the Turkish offensive triggered an international outcry amid concerns that it would create a humanitarian disaster and enable the resurgence of Isis, Mr Trump imposed the sanctions on several Turkish ministries. He also threatened to double tariffs on Turkey’s steel exports and warned that he could “destroy” the country’s economy.
Washington had pledged to lift the sanctions if Ankara complied with the truce the US brokered last week. Both Turkey and the SDF accused each other of violating the agreement. But the SDF said it had pulled back from the border region as agreed under the US deal.
The agreement in effect handed Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan what he has long pressed the US to agree to — a safe zone 30km deep inside north-east Syria cleared of Kurdish militants, which Ankara considers terrorists.
As that truce was about to end on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, struck a separate agreement to push the SDF fighters outside the zone. Turkey and Russia also agreed to conduct joint patrols in the border region, a move that cemented the two states’ influence in Syria as the US pulls out.
Washington’s decision to back the SDF had put severe strain on its relations with Ankara, which considers the Kurdish militants as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has fought a more than three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.
Scores of people were killed in the Turkish offensive and more than 170,000 were forced to flee their homes. Isis fighters and affiliates exploited the chaos to escape from detention centres run by the SDF.
Mr Trump’s decision to pull the remaining 1,000 American troops out of Syria has severed the US’s ties with the SDF, which had struck a deal with the Assad regime, enabling Syrian government troops to return to the north-east for the first time in years.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump said that “a small number” of troops would remain in Syria to “protect the oil”. But he insisted the US was “getting out” of the country. It was not clear how the American troops would operate in the region now that Syrian regime forces have returned to the north-east.
“Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand,” Mr Trump said.
He added that Mazloum Kobani, commander of the SDF, had assured him that Isis detainees being held by his forces remained “under lock and key”.