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Erdogan rejects Syria ceasefire ahead of Pence, Pompeo visit

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Image: Turkish tanks and troops stationed near Syrian town of Manbij, Syria
Turkish tanks and troops stationed near Syrian town of Manbij, Syria, Tuesday. -
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LONDON — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed never to declare a ceasefire in northeast Syria hours before Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were due to depart for Ankara to persuade him to stop his offensive into the region.

"They say 'declare a ceasefire'. We will never declare a ceasefire," Erdogan told reporters after a visit to Azerbaijan.

"They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions," he added.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House, on Monday.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House, on Monday. Jacquelyn Martin

The vice president's office announced Tuesday that Pence would lead a U.S. delegation including Pompeo, national security advisor Robert O'Brien and the special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, to Turkey on Wednesday.

Pence is due to meet with Erdogan where he will urge the Turkish leader to reach an immediate ceasefire as well as reiterate President Donald Trump's commitment to maintain economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached, the statement said.

Reaching a resolution could be an uphill battle. Trump reiterated Tuesday that the U.S. was calling for a ceasefire and appeared to threaten even more sanctions if one could not be reached.

"Massive tariffs on steel. They ship a lot of steel to the United States. They make a long of money shipping steel. They won't be making so much money," he told reporters Tuesday in the White House's Rose Garden.

"We want to bring our soldiers back home after so many years, and they're the greatest warriors in the world. They're policing. They're not a police force," he added.

On Monday, Trump ordered new sanctions on Turkish government figures "and any persons contributing to Turkey's destabilizing actions in northeast Syria."

Trump said he plans to hike tariffs on steel up to 50 percent and "immediately" halt trade negotiations with the country, specifically a $100 billion trade deal.

In an Op-Ed written in the Wall Street Journalon Monday, Erdogan said Operation Peace Spring, which launched on Oct. 9, aimed to "end the humanitarian crisis and address the violence and instability that are the root causes of irregular migration in our region."

Erdogan said the international community had not done enough to help Turkey with the millions of Syrian refugees the country took in.

"Turkey reached its limit," he said.

The Kremlin said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had invited Erdogan to visit Russia "in the coming days" and that the Turkish president had accepted the invitation. Kurdish troops, who Turkish-led forces are battling, have called on Damascus and Moscow to help repel the invading Turkish troops.

These diplomatic overtures came as Syrian regime forces continued to push north toward the Turkish border and Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) and Turkish-led forces clashed in Ras al-Ayn and Tel Helef among other places, according to the SDF.

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Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition of nations that are fighting ISIS in the region, said all coalition troops had left the city of Manbij Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Russian military police were patrolling the north-western borders of Manbij district along the line of contact of Syrian regime troops and Turkish forces.

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