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Trump Says He'll Lift U.S. Sanctions On Turkey Now That Cease-Fire Is In Place

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's a tenuous cease-fire in place in northern Syria. It was only two weeks ago that President Trump ordered U.S. troops out of the region. And that move kicked off a Turkish incursion that has pushed tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds from the area. Today at the White House, President Trump sought to justify that decision.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How many Americans must die in the Middle East in the midst of these ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts?

CORNISH: While Trump called the cease-fire a breakthrough, the agreement leaves open many questions about how meaningful it is. Here to explain is NPR's Franco Ordoñez. And, Franc (ph), first, how did the president talk about the cease-fire?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, President Trump announced what he called a permanent cease-fire deal with Turkish President Erdogan that is supposed to end two weeks of vicious fighting with formerly U.S.-aligned Kurdish forces. But Trump himself signaled that may - it may not really be that permanent.

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TRUMP: However, you would also define the word permanent in that part of the world as somewhat questionable. We all understand that, but I do believe it will be permanent.

ORDOÑEZ: Nonetheless, Trump ordered the sanctions Treasury had imposed on Turkey to be lifted. Trump also hinted that Erdogan's visit to the White House next month would go on as planned. There will be - part of that deal, there will be a 20-mile buffer zone or safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. But it's interesting because it won't be the United States patrolling that safe zone. But it will be Russia and Turkey patrolling the area.

CORNISH: Can you explain that arrangement? Did the president explain how it would work?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Trump didn't address it directly, saying it was now up to others. He said countries in the region now need to take care of their own problem. But he indirectly appeared to make a nod to Russia and Turkey about stepping in.

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TRUMP: Others have come out to help, and we welcome them to do so. Other countries have stepped forward. They want to help, and we think that's great.

ORDOÑEZ: A senior administration official said after that the U.S. role was helping Kurdish forces get out of the area. He said the United States didn't have anything to do with the agreement between Russia and Turkey. But now that means that adversaries like Russia are taking a bigger role. And it's not clear, really, how long this will work out because Russia and Turkey have different goals. Turkey wants to move Sunni refugees into this area while Russia wants to move control, eventually, to Syria's Assad.

CORNISH: The president has taken a lot of criticism about this decision, especially from other Republicans in Congress. Did he offer any olive branch to them, so to speak, in this announcement?

ORDOÑEZ: He has taken a lot of heat, and the answer is no, though. Even as he needs their support - Republican support - on impeachment, Trump didn't relent when it came to his criticism of past Republican foreign policy decisions. He blamed Republicans and other pundits for getting the U.S. into what he called the Middle East mess, and he said they never had the vision or the courage to get the U.S. out of the area like he is.

CORNISH: Now, I want to ask you one last question before you go, which is about the president's decision-making in Syria. People are perceiving it as chaotic. What does the outcome look like for the U.S.?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, as you heard earlier, Trump isn't sure whether peace will last in the region, and a small U.S. force will remain in Syria to prevent ISIS from getting control of the oil fields. But, obviously, there are other challenges.

I spoke to Jeff Mankoff who served as an adviser on U.S.-Russia relations at the U.S. State Department under President Obama about whether this was a victory, as Trump described.

JEFF MANKOFF: It may be a way to try and spin this as something other than a total tail between the legs kind of getting out of town and just completely leave the field to others.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Mankoff tells me this was all done so suddenly, without advance planning. That really left U.S. partners in the lurch, so allies are really questioning how reliable the U.S. is. And our strongest allies in the area, the Kurds, will, in many ways, lose independence and autonomy because of the deal reached by Turkey and Russia. And it's these kind of things that Mankoff says were not properly thought of with such a precipitous exit.

CORNISH: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thank you so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.