Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary to the Treasury Steve Mnuchin briefed reporters on developments to the White House’s Turkey-Syria strategy during an impromptu press conference on the White House driveway Monday evening.
Pence announced that President Trump had asked him and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien to lead a peace delegation to Turkey, while Mnuchin revealed that the U.S. had leveled initial sanctions on the Turkish ministers of defense, energy, and the interior.
“The United States of America did not give a green light to Turkey to invade Syria,” Pence told reporters. “The president has been very clear on that point, and reiterated that to President Erdogan today. . . . President Trump pressed him very strongly in the telephone call today to immediately embrace a ceasefire.”
Pence stated that Erdogan told Trump that Turkey would not attack the Kurdish city of Kobani, and that Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) met with the president Monday afternoon and was present when Trump signed the executive order issuing new sanctions against Turkey. Pence also revealed that Trump is willing to act as an arbitrator for negotiations between the Turkish military and the Kurdish SDF, and is sending Pence and O’Brien on his behalf.
“The president has directed me to lead a delegation to Turkey to begin those discussions about how we can bring this violence to an end,” Pence stated, saying the team will leave “as quickly as possible to travel into the region to pursue a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement.” Pence additionally noted that while Trump’s push to bring troops home “has always been a priority,” the president has never “encouraged violence anywhere in the world, let alone along the border between Turkey and Syria.”
Mnuchin also gave an update on Turkish sanctions, saying “the president has been very clear, these sanctions are very, very strong. He is prepared to remove these sanctions if there is the necessary actions on Turkey’s point.”
With the potential controversy of Erdogan’s scheduled visit next month, Pence said that no decision has been made whether Erdogan will be permitted to come to the White House.