Pence set to make ceasefire case to Erdogan, after release of 'tough guy' letter

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By Saphora Smith  with NBC News World News
Image: Vice President Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence waves as he board Air Force Two at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, en route to Turkey.   -   Copyright  Jacquelyn Martin

LONDON — Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weredue to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoganThursday in an effort to persuade him to implement a cease-fire in the escalating Syria conflict.

The diplomatic overture is set to take place just hours after President Donald 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.

Getting a cease-fire will be a herculean task. On Tuesday, Erdogan vowed never to to declare one.

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

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 Russia's President Vladimir Putin to help deter a Turkish invasion.

A week after Turkish troops entered northeastern Syria, the U.S. is now trying to halt Turkey's offensive on the ground and bring about a cease-fire.

But the Pence-Pompeo-Erdogan meeting comes 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 Rojava Information Center, a pro-SDF research group based in the Kurdish-held areas.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party legislators at the Parliament, in Ankara, on Wednesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party legislators at the Parliament, in Ankara, on Wednesday.Burhan Ozbilici

The move will make it more difficult for Turkey to establish it's "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 on Oct. 9.