Secretary Mike Pompeo defends deal brokered with Turkey to temporarily halt military operations in Syria

PHOTO: US Vice President Mike Pence (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) attend a press conference after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara, Turkey, 17 October 2019.PlaySTR/EPA-EFE/REX
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the "ceasefire" that he and Vice President Mike Pence brokered with Turkey and responded to criticism from both Kurdish fighters and Republicans on the Hill, on ABC's "This Week."

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The U.S. and Turkey reached the agreement on Thursday to "pause" Turkey's military operations in northern Syria for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a buffer zone. If the withdrawal is complete after that time, Turkey will halt its operation and the U.S. will lift sanctions on Turkish officials. U.S. officials were calling the agreement a ceasefire while Turkish officials have referred to it as a pause.

Despite the deal taking effect on Thursday, eyewitnesses reported that shelling continued through Thursday night and into Friday morning.

"We put out a joint statement which we think will really save lives. It's worked so far," Pompeo said on Sunday, adding that he had just received a report from his senior advisers that indicated that there is relatively little fighting still in Syria.

But since the release of a joint statement between the two NATO allies, critics from across the political spectrum have panned it as a capitulation to Turkey or a vague resolution that does not fully address the crisis now unfolding in northeastern Syria with the departure of U.S. troops.

"The Turks said they got everything they wanted," ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos said on Sunday.

"I was there. It sure didn't feel that way when we were negotiating," Pompeo said.

"It was a hard fought negotiation. It began before the vice president and I even arrived in Ankara," he said. "We achieved the outcome that President Trump sent us to achieve."

Following the ceasefire announcement on Thursday, there were Republicans on Capitol Hill who were cautiously optimistic.

"The fact that the slaughter has stopped is good news," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "But I promise you this: five days from now, I will feel just as committed to making sure Turkey is out of Syria as I am today. I will feel just as committed to making sure we don't abandon the Kurds as I am today. And I'm going to give it a chance -- give a ceasefire a chance. Whether it results in peace, I don't know."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had a different reaction.

"The administration and the president's decision has undermined every single one of" America's interests in Syria "and I think has done so in ways that we're going to regret for a long time," Rubio said on Thursday.

Pompeo responded to Rubio's comments on Sunday, saying that the Trump administration was still "fully" committed to preventing the reemergence of the Islamic State, restraining Syrian President Bashar al-Assadā€™s power and eliminating Iranian influence in Syria.

"Security, stability in the Middle East has increased because of the work we've done," he said. "I'm very confident that this administration's efforts to crush ISIS will continue."

Stephanopoulos also asked Pompeo about concerns raised about potential ethnic cleansing by Turkey.

"And Lindsey Graham raises the other concern as the Kurds are withdrawing from that border with Turkey, that it would lead to a military occupation that displaces hundreds of thousands," Stephanopoulos said. "He says that's not a safe zone, it's ethnic cleansing. Can you assure the Kurdish people and the president's allies in Congress that you will not be party to ethnic cleansing?"

Pompeo pointed to the joint statement that was released declaring the ceasefire.

"No fewer than three of the paragraphs were aimed squarely at ensuring that in this space, this Turkish-controlled space, between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, in that Turkish-controlled space that there wouldn't be attacks on minorities," he said.