Pompeo Sees Cease-fire as Key Goal of Ankara Visit: Syria Update

(Bloomberg) -- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s military operation in Syria could end after Kurdish fighters leave a strip of territory along its border, laying out his key condition for ending an offensive that has drawn American sanctions and roiled markets.

The U.S. decision to stand aside when Turkey advanced into Syria to push back Kurdish groups controlling the northeast has reconfigured old alliances and taken Syria’s eight-year-old civil war into uncharted territory.

Kurdish-led forces, who fought with U.S. backing to defeat Islamic State, have struck a deal for President Bashar al-Assad to deploy his troops to the border area, raising the prospects for a wider escalation and questions over the fate of thousands of jihadists who are being held in the area.

“Our proposal for the most certain resolution to the problem in Syria is that all the terrorists should leave their arms and other materials and destroy the traps that they have set and leave the secure zone” that’s defined by Turkey, Erdogan told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Here is a rundown of major events in Turkish local time:

Key Developments

Erdogan lays out conditions for an end to the military operation in SyriaTurkey has rejected demands for a cease-fire in Syria but signaled compromise over two key border townsTurkish markets are in turmoil as Turkey’s Halkbank faces U.S. criminal case over a scheme to evade sanctions on IranVladimir Putin spoke with Erdogan about the need to deescalate the conflict in SyriaU.S. Vice President Mike Pence will meet Erdogan on Thursday in Ankara

Pompeo Sees Cease-fire as Key Goal of Ankara Visit (1:25 a.m.)

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the goal of his trip to Turkey along with Vice President Mike Pence is to secure a cease-fire in northern Syria.

“Our mission set is to see if we can get a cease-fire, see if we can get this brokered,” told reporters as he boarded his plane to Ankara on Wednesday night. Pompeo and Pence are traveling on separate planes. The two are expected to meet with Erdogan on Thursday.

The trip follows Trump’s repeated defense of his decision to pull troops from northern Syria. Earlier in the day, he rejected criticism from key Republican supporters in Congress that his move effectively abandoned Kurdish allies and allowed Russia to fill the vacuum. He insisted the U.S. shouldn’t get involved in any conflict between Turkey and Syria.

UN Security Council Expresses Concern Over ISIS: (10:30 p.m.)

The United Nations Security Council, deeply divided over Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, issued a statement Wednesday expressing “deep concern” over the risk of the dispersion of terrorists from groups including Islamic State and “over the risk of a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.”

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said, “We understand the Turkish national security concern but we believe that the operation that they are conducting should be proportionate to the aims that they’ve declared.”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said “Turkey’s military offensive into northeast Syria is undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS, endangering innocent civilians, and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region.”

Syrian Military Forces Enter Key Town of Kobani (8:42 p.m.)

Syrian government forces entered the key town of Kobani - also known as Ain Al Arab - Wednesday night, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, part of a deal with Kurdish forces to fend off Turkey’s offensive on the border.

Syrian forces also expanded their deployment in Raqqa earlier in the day, state-run Sana news agency said, showing images of troops in army gear, carrying their national flag and pictures of President Bashar Al Assad as they made their way to the area.

Altun Weighs In on Erdogan’s Conditions (3:49 p.m.)

Turkey expects the U.S. to provide support to get all the “terrorists” out of the buffer zone that it wants to create in Syria, Fahrettin Altun, the president’s director of communications, told Bloomberg ahead of a visit by Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara.

The so-called “safe zone” should stretch for around 450 kilometers (280 miles) along the Turkish-Syrian border and run 30 to 35 kilometers deep, Altun said. The area needs to be free of both Kurdish militants and Islamic State fighters, he said.

Erdogan will meet Pence and Pompeo during their visit to Ankara.

Russia Says It Respects Turkey’s Right to Ensure Security (1:10 p.m.)

Russia said Turkey has a right to ensure its own security but its military operation must not undermine efforts to end the Syrian civil war.

”We respect Turkey’s right to take measures to ensure its own security, but we expect that the operation will be proportional to this expediency -- to ensure security and the tasks of ensuring security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. While it’s hard to say how long the operation may go on, Russia hopes it won’t “harm the process of political settlement” of the Syrian conflict, he said.

Turkish Markets Cave Under U.S. Pressure as Banks Hit Over Syria (11:40 a.m.)

A renewed sell-off gripped Turkish markets after the U.S. brought criminal charges against one of the nation’s largest banks, in what could be an escalation of Washington’s efforts to reprimand Ankara for its military incursion into northeast Syria.

Stocks fell with government bonds and shares of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank slumped as much as 7.4%, the most since March. The lira bucked the rout as state banks were seen selling dollars to support the currency, according to three traders with knowledge of the matter.

Turkish Markets Cave Under U.S. Pressure as Banks Hit Over Syria

Halkbank Says U.S. Case Linked to Turkey’s Syria Operation (11:31 a.m.)

The U.S. indictment was filed as part of the sanctions introduced against the military operation in Syria and appears largely to repeat allegations made during the trial of former Halkbank executive Hakan Atilla, the Turkish state lender said in a public filing.

“The bank was not engaged in any secondary U.S. sanctions violations,” the bank said. Halkbank said it doesn’t have any branches or employees based in the U.S. and falls outside the Department of Justice’s jurisdiction.

Assad, Kurdish-led Forces Clash with Turkey-Backed Troops (11:30 a.m.)

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and troops loyal to Assad clashed overnight with Turkish-backed fighters east of the Syrian border town of Ain Issa, according to Rami Abdurrahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists on the ground.

The clashes came after Turkish-backed forces struck a Syrian government base in Ain Issa, killing two soldiers.

Turkey Rejects Demand for Syria Cease-Fire, Draws Line at Kobani (07:08 a.m.)

President Erdogan rejected the Trump administration’s demand for a cease-fire in Syria, but signaled he was willing to compromise over the fate of two strategic border towns he wants removed from Kurdish control.

Erdogan said he’d told Trump that Turkey has no plans to target Kobani, which U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters liberated from Islamic State in a months-long battle. He also said Turkey did not view too negatively Assad’s takeover of the town of Manbij.

“Trump asked us not to hit Kobani,” Erdogan said in comments published on the presidency’s website late Tuesday. “We have a containment operation around the city. We are not seriously interested in the inner side of the city. But depending on developments, we may intervene.”

Turkey’s Halkbank Faces U.S. Charges as Tensions Mount (01:03 a.m.)

The U.S. brought a criminal case against one of Turkey’s largest banks for aiding a scheme to evade sanctions against Iran, a move that carries political overtones as tensions build over Turkey’s military incursions in Syria.

In an indictment filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors accused government-owned Halkbank of participating in a wide-ranging plot to violate prohibitions on Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system. The conspiracy involved high-ranking government officials in Iran and Turkey, the U.S. said.

“Halkbank’s systemic participation in the illicit movement of billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil revenue was designed and executed by senior bank officials,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in New York said in a statement. “Halkbank will now have to answer for its conduct in an American court.”

--With assistance from Stepan Kravchenko, Ugur Yilmaz, Cagan Koc and David Wainer.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dana Khraiche in Beirut at dkhraiche@bloomberg.net;Firat Kozok in Ankara at fkozok@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, ;Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net, Paul Abelsky

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