President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Wednesday ruled out a ceasefire with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, although he said he would meet with Vice President Mike Pence after initially refusing to do so.
“They tell us to declare a ceasefire. We can never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan told reporters.
Fierce battles continue into a second week as Kurdish forces attempt to stave off Turkish efforts to occupy a 20-mile–wide strip of territory along the country’s border in order to resettle about 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.
“God willing, we will quickly secure the region stretching from Manbij to our border with Iraq,” Erdogan said. “When the zone from Manbij to Iraq [is cleared] when we could establish a safe zone, this operation will be over. But until that point, no power can stop us.”
President Trump has faced withering bipartisan criticism since he pulled 1,000 U.S. troops out of northern Syria last week. Critics say the move has left U.S.-allied Kurdish forces open to Turkish attack. Many civilians have been killed and about 160,000 people displaced so far.
In the wake of the violence, President Trump dispatched Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Erdogan and negotiate a ceasefire. Pence’s office said he planned to meet with Erdogan on Thursday. The Turkish president originally said he would refuse to meet with Pence but later changed his mind.
Erdogan also has dismissed the notion that he would be brought to the negotiating table by economic sanctions, which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the White House have already threatened to impose. “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 on Wednesday.
Politicians in Washington also are concerned that the chaos could endanger the fight against the Islamic State in the region, as thousands of terrorist prisoners are held in the Kurdish camps now under attack in the area.