US Senators have vowed to proceed with their sanctions legislation against Turkey until an overall settlement in the dispute in the Kurdish region of Syria is reached.
This is despite the announcement of a five-day cease-fire struck between Ankara-Washington delegations on Thursday.
The primary sponsors of two separate sanctions bills, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, both said they would persist with their bills despite the cease-fire announced by US Vice-President Mike Pence.
“We are going to keep working,” Graham told reporters at a Senate press conference on Thursday in response to questions about his legislative efforts together with Senator Chris Van Hollen.
“There are other issues obviously than just a cease-fire that needs to be addressed. This bill will encourage those parties to embrace not only a cease-fire but an overall settlement in the dispute there,” Risch said on his bill, referring to the security of ISIS prisoners and safety of the Kurds.
Turkey initiated a military operation in northeastern Syria on October 9 after US President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the US troops from Syria, in a move widely seen as giving a green light for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to move ahead with the long-threatened invasion.
Besides a “safe zone” formation in the region in an attempt to resettle millions of Syrians living currently in Turkey, Ankara also aims to remove the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters from the border areas.
Turkey regards the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist armed group inside the country.
The senators’ remarks came after Pence announced, following more than five hours of negotiation with Erdogan, that Turkey’s offensive in Syria would be halted for 120 hours in order to allow the YPG militias to evacuate.
If a “permanent cease-fire” is maintained once the evacuation is complete, the US administration will lift the sanctions on Turkey that were ordered by Trump on Monday and not impose further sanctions, Pence said.
In his bill, Graham targets Turkey’s military and energy sectors, as well as a prohibition of arms sales to Turkey, the assets of senior Turkish officials within the US jurisdiction, limitation of their ability to travel to the US, sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system and preparation of a strategy to prevent an ISIS resurgence.
As for Risch’s bill, a comprehensive counter-ISIS strategy, restriction on arms sale to Turkey, sanctions on top Turkish officials, reports on potential Turkish war crimes and Turkey’s participation in NATO are required, among others.
The two senators called the cease-fire “a positive development” but said they would maintain their work on the bills.
“I do not know the details [of the cease-fire]. I do not trust Erdogan. I am going to continue to get co-sponsors [for the bill]. We are ready to come and hit Turkey hard if they do not get out of Syria and reset the table,” Graham vowed.
Another Republican Senator Marco Rubio said Risch’s bill was the best way forward.
“From what I understand, it is not a cease-fire. It is, ‘you have X hours to get out of here [Turkey-planned safe zone] before we kill you.’ It does not sound like it changes any of the other dynamics,” said Rubio.
On the Turkish side, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that it was not a cease-fire but a pause in which the two NATO allies agreed on during Thursday’s meeting.
“We will take a 120-hour pause on the operation, but this is not a ceasefire. Ceasefires are made between two legitimate parties,” Cavusoglu said.
The minister also argued that the US had agreed on Turkish control over the safe zone, claiming that Turkey had got what it wanted with the skillful leadership of Erdogan.
Graham also vowed that his bill would pass the Senate with enough support, a two-thirds majority, to overcome a possible veto by Trump.
Following the House committee approval on Wednesday, the bill will be voted in the House. If the bill passes by a simple majority, 218 out of 435, it will move to the US Senate. If a simple majority, 51 out of 100, passes the bill in the Senate, it will go to Trump, who can sign it into law or veto it.
If vetoed, a two-thirds majority of each house will be required to override the veto, and to enact the bill into law.