LONDON — Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that the U.S. reached a cease-fire agreement with Turkey to suspend its military operation in Syria to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone.Pence said that Turkey will suspend its military operations for 120 hours to allow Kurdish forces to leave the zone, and U.S. forces will aid in the retreat.The agreement comes amid growing global concern about Turkey's military incursion in Syria after President Donald Trump ordered U.S. forces to withdraw from the country, leaving the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG — a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State — without support."I'm grateful for the president's leadership. I'm grateful for the more than five hours of negotiations with President [Recep] Erdogan," Pence said, adding that the parties "arrived at a solution that we believe will save lives."Trump on Monday ordered new sanctions on Turkey amid sustained criticism from Democratic and Republican lawmakers over his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, which made way for the Turkish operation.Trump said on Twitter he would authorize sanctions "against current and former officials" in Turkey's government "and any persons contributing to Turkey's destabilizing actions in northeast Syria."Pence said Thursday, however, that under the cease-fire agreement, the U.S. will not impose additional sanctions. The vice president added that once the cease-fire becomes permanent all sanctions will be lifted."Make no mistake about it, President Trump was very clear with our ally Turkey about American opposition to Turkish military forces entering Syria," Pence said. "And I believe the candor and frankness that President Trump applied to this and the strength of his relationship with President Erdogan both contributed to the ability for this agreement to come about."Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Erdogan in Turkeyon Thursday in an effort to persuade him to implement a cease-fire in the escalating Syria conflict.The diplomatic overture took place just hours after Trump downplayed the deteriorating conflict and described theKurdish forces who are fighting Erdogan's troops as "no angels."It also follows the news that Trump wrote an extraordinary letter to Erdogan warning him not to be "a tough guy" on the same day that Turkish forces launched their attack on northern Syria last week."You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will," the letter read.On Tuesday, Erdogan vowed never to declare a cease-fire."They are pressuring us to stop the operation," he told reporters. "They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions."Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria this month, moving out of the way for a Turkish operation, has left the region in chaos as Kurdish troops feel abandoned by America and have turned to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin to help deter a Turkish invasion.Pence's meeting with Erdogan came hours after Trump dismissed Turkey's invasion and said the fight was over land that "has nothing to do with us.""If Turkey goes into Syria, that's between Turkey and Syria," he said to reporters in the Oval Office. "It's not between Turkey and the United States."Meanwhile, on the ground in northeast Syria there was no sign of respite. Overnight, Syrian forces took the strategic border town of Kobani, according to the Rojava Information Center, a pro-Syrian Defense Forces research group based in the Kurdish-held areas.
The move will make it more difficult for Turkey to establish its "safe zone" for Syrian refugees and free of Syrian Kurdish fighters along the frontier. It is also symbolic for Syrian Kurds and their ambitions for self-rule.As Turkish forces advance south and Syrian regime troops north, some 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in the first week of the Turkish invasion, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain. Some 70 civilians have been killed, it added.Earlier this week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairsestimated the figureof displaced people to be around 160,000, including 70,000 children, since the start of Turkey's military operation Oct. 9.Saphora Smith reported from London. Dartunorro Clark reported from New York.