President Donald Trump on Wednesday again tried to distance himself and the U.S. from the Syria crisis, telling reporters asking about Turkey attacking into Syria, ‘It’s not our problem.”
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That is between Turkey and Syria he said at an Oval Office photo-op with Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella.
(MORE: Vice President Mike Pence to head delegation to Turkey for ceasefire talks )
Elaborating on the continued fighting between Turkish forces and the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurds, Trump said of the Kurds, “They’re not angels.”
(MORE: What you need to know about who’s fighting in Syria and what the US withdrawal means)
“We are not a policing agent. It is time for us to go home,” the president said. He said 28 U.S. troops had been moved away from the Turkey-Syria border, calling his decision to remove American forces from the border area “strategically brilliant.”
Trump spoke as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence were leaving Washington later Wednesday for Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to negotiate a ceasefire.
“We’re trying to get Turkey to do the right thing. We want to get wars stopped,” he said.
“If Russia wants to get involved in Syria, that’s really up to them,” Trump added.
The president was to meet with congressional leaders later Wednesday on the Syria situation — many of them, including prominent Republicans — angry about his handling of the situation.
“It’s too late for this kind of conversation. I mean I’m happy that they’re talking,” he said of the Pompeo-Pence mission. “But my goodness, the lack of preparation and thinking about how we could have transitioned to a setting where we can protect the Kurds and also hopefully meet Turkey’s needs and interests — that’s something we should have considered a long time ago before we pulled our troops out,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Wednesday.
“But now, to go over and say let’s talk to Erdogan is like, ‘Hey guys, you let the horses out of the barn. This is, this is too late to be talking about locking the barn door,” he added.
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio echoed Romney’s exasperation.
“Frankly, I don’t know what we can do at this point to reverse some of the long-term damage,” Rubio said.
Rubio said he fears Erdogan is planning an ethnic cleansing of the Kurds. “This is a really problematic situation that’s unfolding.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham also blasted Erdogan for saying sanctions don’t matter and that he will refuse any ceasefire.
“We’re going to sanction that hell out of Turkey. We’re going to break their economy until they leave Syria. This is a defining moment of Trump’s presidency. If we abandon the Kurds, it will be to our shame and our national security detriment and Trump will own the reemergence of ISIS,” Graham said.