In the wake of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Turkey put Operation Peace Spring on hold for a period of 120 hours. On Thursday, Pence rushed to the Turkish capital Ankara to seek an audience with Erdoğan. After hours of negotiations, Turkey and the United States reached an agreement, under which the Ankara agreed to suspend its military operations in northeastern Syria for 120 hours. All members of the PKK terrorist organization and its People's Protection Units (YPG) affiliate are required to leave the safe zone by that deadline. When the countdown ends at 22:00 hours tomorrow, Turkey will investigate whether or not the terrorists have already withdrawn. If not, Operation Peace Spring will resume. The Turkey-U.S. agreement does not cover areas, including Manbij and Ayn al-Arab, where Russia and the Bashar Assad regime replaced U.S. troops. The Turkish president will discuss the fate of those areas with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia. The Turkey-U.S. agreement has several consequences.
From the Turkish perspective, the most important point was Washington's written pledge to help Turkey create a safe zone in northeastern Syria. U.S. officials had been negotiating with the Turks for a long time, playing for time instead of taking definitive steps. When Turkey launched a military incursion into northern Syria, the United States had no choice but to sign a written agreement.
To be clear, Turkish demands – like a 20-mile deep safe zone, the collection of terrorist weapons and the safe zone's enforcement by Turkish forces – shaped the bilateral deal. Another significant outcome was that Turkey removed terrorists from a large area without firing a single bullet or having to fight.
And what if the terrorists refuse to leave? That takes me to the third point: the operation will resume. This time, however, Turkey will have deprived international stakeholders for the reason behind their objections against the incursion. After all, Turkey and the United States gave the terrorists plenty of time to retreat. Thursday's meeting established that Turkey has no intention to harm terrorists – let alone civilians. There are three problems for the United States. First, President Donald Trump sanctioned Turkey in an attempt to alleviate domestic pressures and convince the Turks to abort their mission. Those sanctions were relatively mild, yet ultimately harmful for Turkey-U.S. relations. By reaching an agreement with Turkey, the Trump administration prevented the further deterioration of bilateral relations. After all, many expect some surprise developments in Turkey-U.S. relations soon. Sources in Washington say that President Trump is looking for ways to re-admit Turkey into the F-35 fighter jet program.
Secondly, the U.S. president will ease domestic pressures on his administration through his administration's deal with Turkey. As a powerful leader, Trump took initiative regarding a hotly debated issue in the United States and got results by putting it all on paper. If the Turkey-U.S. agreement fails due to the terrorists' refusal to leave the safe zone within 120 hours, Turkey will resume its military operation – at which point Trump can tell the American people that he has done everything in his power to stop the incursion. Last but not least, the United States prevented the annihilation of terrorist operatives, in which U.S. officials heavily invested for years, in Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. Had there been no agreement, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) would have probably eliminated all terrorists in the region within one week.
In addition to those issues, it is important to highlight two points: By shaking hands with the United States, Turkey largely neutralized the threat that a potential terrorist statelet across its southern border would have posed against Turkish citizens. The "terror corridor" is now divided into two pieces and a much less serious threat. Whereas the terrorist organization PKK/YPG took steps toward statehood with U.S. assistance, Operation Peace Spring completely changed the group's calculus. The terrorists now have to choose between death at the hands of Turkish troops and seeking protection from the Assad regime – hence having to accept the Assad regime's terms.
Another key issue is the fate of Syrian refugees. By launching Operation Peace Spring, Turkey took a highly significant step toward ending the refugee crisis. If the Turks successfully expand the safe zone along their border with Syria, some one million refugees are expected to return to their homes. That would ease Turkey's burden and save the European Union from a very serious crisis. As such, members of the European Union should call and thank the Turkish president for his efforts.