Trump says Syria withdrawal ‘strategically brilliant’ as US representatives condemn move

US president said to have called Nancy Pelosi ‘third-rate politician’ at stormy meeting”

US president Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria as "strategically brilliant" yesterday as the US House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the decision.

In a rebuke to the US president, 129 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to censure the move, which is widely seen as having triggered Turkey's incursion into northern Syria. The vote took place as vice-president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo flew to Turkey to meet president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Trump defended his decision as he met with the Italian president yesterday, claiming the Kurds were “not angels”.

“If Turkey goes into Syria, it is between Turkey and Syria. It’s not our problem,” he said.


‘Much safer’

“The Kurds are much safer right now, but the Kurds know how to fight, and as I said . . . We paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s okay,” he said.

He also denied that his decision had paved the way for the Turkish invasion that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, killed soldiers and civilians, and prompted fears of a resurgent Islamic State, also known as Isis. "He was never given a green light," he said of Mr Erdogan.

Mr Trump's defiance came as he clashed with Democrats at a White House meeting on Syria. Senior Democrats, including House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, walked out of the meeting. Mr Schumer claimed the president had called Ms Pelosi a "third-rate politician". Ms Pelosi said she believed the president was shaken because Republicans, by more than two to one, had voted to oppose his decision.

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown – sad to say,” she said.

Meanwhile, the White House confirmed the existence of a letter sent by Mr Trump to the Turkish leader last week in which he wrote: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! I will call you later.”

Ceasefire attempt

Mr Pompeo, Mr Pence and other senior members of the administration are travelling to Ankara in a bid to encourage Mr Erdogan to announce a ceasefire.

It was a phone call between Mr Trump and his Turkish counterpart on October 6th, during which Mr Trump pledged to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, that triggered the current conflict.

The US president also spoke to Mr Erdogan by phone on Monday just before his administration announced sanctions on Turkey over the offensive.

Ankara perceives the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as close to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a militant group opposed to the Turkish state, and has ordered Turkish forces and local Syrian fighters backed by Turkey to attack SDF-held areas. Mr Erdogan has said he wants to establish a “safe zone” 20 miles deep along the southern side of the Turkish border with Syria.

Speaking on Wednesday as the offensive continued, Mr Erdogan said that “terror organisations” should lay down their arms in northern Syria. “Our offer is that immediately tonight all terrorists should drop their weapons, equipment and everything, destroying their traps and leaving the safe zone we have designated,” he told a meeting of his Justice and Development Party.

The Kurds agreed a deal with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad last weekend, inviting government forces to return to regions of northern Syria they had abandoned at the height of the country’s eight-year-old civil war.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent