U.S. President Donald Trump is prepared to use military force “if needed,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said, adding that Washington prefers “peace to war.”
“We prefer peace to war. But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action,” Pompeo told CNBC’s Wilfred Frost in an interview on Oct. 21,
Pompeo’s remarks were made in response to a question by Frost regarding Turkey’s military offensive in Syria, although he refrained from naming a specific country that the action would be used against.
Trump has been under bipartisan fire over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria – a move that was branded as “a stab in the back” by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which was Washington’s main ally in the fight against ISIS.
The leading group in the SDF is the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey perceives as a terrorist organization due to its links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the U.S. and the European Union.
Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria paved the way for Ankara to launch its long-sought offensive, which aims to clear the border from YPG militants and set up a “safe zone” for the return of over one million Syrian refugees to their homeland.
During the interview, Pompeo declined to lay out a red line for what action would prompt a U.S. military response, saying he did not want to “get out in front of the president’s decision about whether to take the awesome undertaking of using America’s military might.”
“You suggested the economic powers that we’ve used. We’ll certainly use them. We’ll use our diplomatic powers as well. Those are our preference,” Pompeo said.
Trump told reporters at a Cabinet meeting on Oct. 21 that the U.S. “never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.”
“We helped the Kurds,” he said. “And we never gave the Kurds a commitment that we’d stay for the next 400 years and protect them.”
“We’re not going to take a position. Let them fight themselves,” Trump added.
Turkey and the U.S. agreed on a 120-hour-long ceasefire in northern Syria during U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Ankara.
As part of the agreement, the YPG is set to withdraw its militants from the area.
The agreement was also slammed by both Democrats and Republicans, who said it gave Turkey everything it wanted while abandoning U.S. allies.
Speaking about the agreement, Trump said that the ceasefire is holding despite some skirmishes, which is set to end at 10 p.m. on Oct. 22.
In the interview, Pompeo defended the agreement, saying he was “fully convinced that that work saved lives.”
“Not only the lives of the [SDF] fighters, but the ethnic minorities in the region,” Pompeo said.
“Our allies see it the same way. We got real commitments to protect ethnic minorities throughout the region from the Turks in the course of negotiating that statement. I think the work that we did saved lives,” Pompeo said.
Trump had pressed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not to go ahead with the offensive in northern Syria before Turkish troops moved into the country.
In an extraordinarily undiplomatic letter sent on Oct. 9, Trump told Erdoğan not to be a “tough guy,” which was reportedly thrown in the trash by the Turkish President, before the incursion was launched.
Pompeo also said that the U.S. commitment to Kurdish militants have been fulfilled.
“Turkey didn’t — the country that Turkey invaded, they conducted an incursion into, is Syria, a sovereign nation. We worked with Kurdish friends, the SDF up and down the Euphrates River,” Pompeo said.
“We jointly took down the threat of the Caliphate of ISIS. It was to the benefit of the SDF, it was to the benefit of the United States of America, and indeed, to the benefit of the world. The commitment that we made to work alongside them we completely fulfilled,” he added.