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Exclusive: Syria truce was contingent on Turkey’s request for a ceasefire

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — A surprise deal to suspend Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-led forces in Syria was dependent on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s demand that Washington agree to a time limit for any ceasefire, a senior Turkish official said on Friday.

US Vice President Mike Pence announced a five-day halt to the Turkish offensive after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara on Thursday.

Despite the bleak start of the meeting, officials from both sides say a draft agreement had already been prepared before the talks, but major obstacles remained in the way of agreeing to stop the attack.

The aim was to end a new humanitarian crisis that has displaced 200,000 civilians in northeastern Syria, and to allay security concerns about the fate of thousands of ISIS prisoners guarded by the YPG targeted by the Turkish offensive.

Tensions between Turkey and the United States were also at stake, as differences between NATO members over policy toward Syria and Russia prompted US President Donald Trump to declare sanctions and threaten to destroy the Turkish economy.

“It was clear that the Pence talks in Turkey would not be easy,” the official told Reuters.

Even before his plane landed in Ankara, Turkey had rejected Pence’s call for a ceasefire unless the YPG agreed to withdraw from a “safe zone” 20 miles deep along the border. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization because of its links to the PKK, which is waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey.

“There were many differences” in the talks, said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. But the main issue was Turkey’s insistence that the truce should not be open-ended.

“The crucial point in the meeting was when Erdogan asked for a deadline if they wanted to stop operations.” “Erdogan said it could be 24 or 48 hours. “This is a very short time frame and he cannot make this decision himself,” Pence said.

With the Turkish president refusing to make concessions, the issue was discussed at a second expanded meeting.

“After discussions, a 120-hour deadline was agreed,” the official said. Once this issue has been resolved, progress has been made quickly on the other issues.”

“At some point, Erdogan asked how long it would take the YPG to withdraw, and we (the US delegation) saw that as a glimmer of hope that the Turks are ready to conclude an agreement,” a senior administration official said.

The deal has eased tensions in northern Syria, but there are signs the interim truce is fragile.

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