tv Hearing on Turkey in Northeast Syria - PART 1 CSPAN October 22, 2019 9:10pm-11:47pm EDT
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i like toisch: welcome our guests. i hope they can get us up-to-date, which is difficult, as fast as the situation is moving. the hearing is intended to examine turkey's cross-border attack on u.s. interests in the middle east. state ofaluate the u.s.-turkey relations. before we talk about the current state of affairs in syria, it is important to recall the path that brought us here. the syrian civil war is a
complex, multisided conflict that has drawn in russia, iran, the u.s., nato allies and other entities. over the course of this eight-year conflict, the syrian dictator with the support of russia and iran has bombed towns and cities across syria, resulting in 500,000 deaths and leaving 10 million people displaced. we are all aware of confirmed use of chemical weapons by the regime incked assad violation of international law. syrian, russian and iranian regimes hope to tilde upon the successful defeat of the islamic northeast syria. these are circumstances we find ourselves in today. beginning in 2011, the islamic state took full advantage of the chaos in syria to gather 2014 -- gather
strength. into14, isis spilled over iraq, captured territory and declared its caliphate. as iraqi watched soldiers were marched to mass graves, women and children were sold into slavery. execution videos made by isis were packaged as recruitment materials. -- aftereral files several false starts, the u.s. led a coalition intent on defeating the caliphate. with limited boots on the ground, then the u.s. and kurds forced the territorial defeat of isis. heavy kurdish involvement came at great cost, nearly 11,000 syrian kurds reported killed and many more wounded. that brings us to the present. the turkish relationship with
the region's kurds has been fraught for centuries, particularly over the last three decades. u.s. support for syrian-kurdish fighters created massive tensions in the u.s.-turkey relationship. turkey views syrian kurds as an extension of the insurgency pkk, which as the has fought an insurgency against ingres for the past three. against ankara -- against ankara for the past three decades. the u.s. has worked for months to address turkish security. turkey's misguided invasion in northern syria threatens to unravel progress the u.s. and partners have fought to achieve. isis is defeated, but elements remain that could reconstitute and pose a threat to u.s. national security. our counterterrorism concerns
remain very real. continuing regional conflict and instability create conditions for isis' revival with potential to attack the u.s. homeland. absent continued counterterrorism pressure, isis is likely to return, whether in syria or elsewhere. only through diligent -- through vigilance will we keep ourselves safe. turkey has assured us they will continue to battle the islamic state. skeptical of turkey's counterterrorism guarantees. we have tread this ground before. we have offered turkey the opportunity to combat isis. turkey promised to provide forces to combat isis but failed to follow through. worse, sometimes the forces had questionable ties to jihadist or al qaeda linked groups.
primary concern is its struggle against pkk. countering isis falls much further down the list of turkish priorities. actions threaten further instability and chaos in a country that has suffered devastation. reports of syrian and russian troops occupying abandoned u.s. positions underscores that turkey's actions have opened the his russiand and and iranian backers. the u.s. withdraw has created an opportunity to be exploited by russia. on the day the u.s.-brokered cease-fire was set to expire, president erdogan met with president boudin. u.n. security council resolution framework for a political resolution,
cease-fire, free elections, remains very much in doubt with putin's high level and -- high level of involvement. we should discouraged parallel talks and reinvigorate the u.n. process. isis detainees, many at makeshift prisons, add to the complexity. we have seen reports of breakouts. further escape of battle hardened terrorists will serve as a strategic boon for isis to swell the ranks. finally, there is the broader issue of u.s.-turkish relations. prior to the turkish invasion, turkey's dangerous tilt toward moscow and autocracy was a serious concern and remains a concern. turkey has imprisoned americans and u.s. consulate employees, has jailed more journalists than anywhere in the world and recently purchased and an accepted delivery of the russian
system,ssile defense despite the loud protests of turkey's closest allies. now we face a turkey that ignores our interests and brutally attacks our partners. while i appreciate efforts to reduce violence through negotiations, turkey must bear cost for undermining u.s. security. that is why ranking member menendez and i have written legislation to sanction, block arms sales and impose costs on turkey if it continues its ill-advised syrian invasion. i took liberty by saying the ranking member and i. there were many members of this committee who had input into this. i complement the staffs of the majority and minority for working hard on a bill we think is a good l. bill.ood we have other fronts that have
been opened up with other bills being offered. some members of this committee have partnered on some of those bills. i would urge when these things happen, that we try as best we can to act as a committee. we are much stronger when we act together, and i think the bill that comes out of this committee, with a real push from the vast majority of the committee, would be very helpful. bill that weve the are working on and continue to work on today in the very near future. and dasor jeffrey, palmer, thank you for your attendance are today. i hope we can provide -- i hope you can provide guidance on how the administration intends to tackle this situation and provide ideas for a constructive path for the united states congress to take moving forward. senator menendez.
menand is: thank you -- endez: thank you for rolling they hearing. the urgency of now as it relates to syria and our interests cry out for a hearing like this, and i applaud your quick response. i want to thank ambassador jeffries and deputy secretary palmer. ambassador, i understand you came out of retirement for this post. i'm not going to suggest you need a mental check. [laughter] i applaud your commitment to serving our country. i think it is incredibly important. ambassador jeffrey, we understand you and ambassador diplomatic corps and military leaders on the ground spent the past months doing diligent diplomacy,
balancing a belligerent nato ally and a militia force in pursuit of defeating isis in syria. however, your efforts were of lastg in december year, when president trump made abundantly clear he was more swayed by president erdogan's manipulative threats and persuasions then advice from his own diplomatic and military corps. the president's decisions are a betrayal of u.s. foreign policy to russia, a betrayal of kurdish partners who died alongside us in the battle against isis, who are now throwing in their lot with russian and iranian-backed syrian government, the regime that gassed its own citizens and uses isis as a political tool, a betrayal of our ally, israel, as chaos empowers iran's pursuit of a land bridge from tehran to the mediterranean, and a gift to isis, which has been given the
time and space to regroup, as well as thousands of civilians continuing to flee, even under this so-called cease-fire. the region is recalibrating the relationship ash the united states, thousands of kurds who we wa -- who we once called partners rocks,u.s. troops with president erdogan today said we will continue to make big steps with my dear friend, mr. putin, to provide the long-lasting peace and stability to syria. the betrayal is fully in viewing that press conference, where russia has agreed to join turkey in cutting a swath of land for turkey that ultimately, at the end of the day, is a cleansing of kurds who have historically had these as part of where they
have lived going back in time. as the pause and hostilities expires as we sit here, the united states has been sidelined. russia and the murderous assad regime are calling the shots. we don't even have clarity about whether, where and how many u.s. troops might remain. before, was any doubt erdogan's intentions are clear, and ethnic cleansing mission in northeast syria and a partnership in cooperation with the united states and other nato allies. nato members commit to upholding principles laid out in the articles of the north atlantic charter, including solidarity , as allies in the alliance well as dedication to democratic principles and practices. in recent years, turkey's behavior has belied nearly everyone of those principles. 0 air defensee s-40
system from nato's main opponent, russia, and developing close relationships with the kremlin. i hear the majority leader and some of my colleagues suggesting we have to worry about not pushing turkey into rush's arms. they are there. 0, theyught the s-40 could have bought the u.s. patriot missile system, interoperable as an ally. they were meeting with russia and iran about the future of syria, and they strike a deal with russia to ultimately pursue their interests. erdogan has cracked down on human rights and eroded democratic institutions in his country. the most journalists imprisoned anywhere in the world, it is not north korea, iran or russia. they are in turkey. and erdogan's aggression extends to the exclusive economic zone of cyprus, were turkish ships
bully international energy companies conducting legitimate exploration. over the weekend, "the new york times" reported on turkey's interests to pursue nuclear weapons. this is not the behavior of a constructive, democratic actor or nato ally. today'sing we can use hearing to get a full assessment of how the united states is now pursuing our interests on the ground in syria. the president's abandonment of american interest in syria syria open the door for turkish incursion into northeast syria has unequivocally harmed american national security, potentially increased the threat of terrorism against the homeland and against americans, and solidified russian and iranian political and military power across syria and beyond. the american people are smart enough to see through the president's hollow claims of fulfilling a campaign promise to bring american troops out of the middle east. theas simply moved most of
troops from syria into iraq, where reports today say leadership in iraq is saying they cannot stay there, and has also sent thousands more troops to saudi arabia over the past year. how is that getting out of the entanglements of the middle east? so as we must win presidents do not come of the congress has stepped into put america's interests first. i was pleased to join senators young, murphy and gardner in introducing a resolution condemning turkish actions, calling on the president to reconsider his decision, and for a comprehensive strategy against isis. the chairman mentioned we have worked on legislation to address not just turkey's actions, but calling on the administration to submit a copperheads of review .f our counter-isis strategy humanitarian and stabilization assistance for kurds in syria, and accountability for crimes
against humanity as well as sanctions on russia as well. mr. chairman, i look forward to this hearing and i look forward to working with you to move this bill through the committee and to the floor. i think the fierce urgency continues to dictate that we move urgently. chairman risch: we do need to move together. it is very obvious that a once strong ally, turkey, and a fellow member of nato, has really gone in a very bad direction and wound up in a very bad place. that is best we all work together to do this, and there is good signs that there is a lot of involvement from most every member of this committee. thank you forfrey joining us today. jeffrey is a james special representative for syrian engagement. a seniorr jeffrey is
diplomat, having served as deputy national security advisor from 2007-2008 as well as u.s. ambassador to turkey from 2010 -- from 2008-2010. help us wrestle with a difficult situation in a situation that is much different than you found when you were dealing with turkey. please enlighten us. jeffrey: thank you. it is an honor to be here. i have submitted a written statement for the record. i would like to summarize our views and answer your questions. as you have indicated, the focus of today's hearing is a tragic syria,on in northeast including the u.s.-turkish agreement to bring about a ande-fire on october 17, the just announced a few hours
ago, russia-turkish agreement for a cease-fire in other parts of that northeastern strip. but to understand what has happened, how the trump administration has responded, and what lies ahead, it is important to keep in mind lyingnder situation, the most destabilizing conflict of the 21st century. war, ragingivil since 2011. this devil's brew mixes together three champions of middle east thander, assad, worse saddam or qaddafi, and ideological state on the march, , all and terror from isis exploited cynically by an outside power, russia. our actions and syria are driven by our core objectives, defeating islamic terror, restoring syria to a civilized
the removalntering of all iranian commandant forces from that country. some argue these objectives are too ambitious. frankly, we have no other choice than to pursue them in order to lead the world out of this crisis. in dealing with today's situation in northeast syria, turkey is the heavy. it has acted unwisely and dangerously, as you have afterted, despite warning warning and incentive after incentive from this administration to choose differently, including a package of economic and security commitments and a visit to washington. as a result, millions of our stfle syrians, partners in the northeast, israel, jordan, iraq, and turkey itself, through this intervention, are all made less
secure. and isis is more emboldened. let us remember that with turkey's actions, we face another regional phenomenon, this time with a nato state, that is, a major neighbor to a conflict feels it's asks this dental security on its border is not advanced by -- it's existential security on its border is not advanced by the united states, as we end our partners strive to overcome the crisis, it is critical to keep in view these larger objectives. thank you.
chairman risch: as i stand it, both of your going to take questions from the with that, first of all, i want to say, i appreciate your focus on trying to get in a better place than where we are. would you agree that with assad having amassed 30,000 troops on heat havingnd the been turned up as much as they have in recent months that this invasion was inevitable into syria? jeffrey: it was a very real possibility, it was never inevitable. we told turkey exactly what
happened. they would not get very far in this offensive and they have not often very far. as you see, they are in cease-fire agreements with us and the russians and we told of how this would play out, that it made no sense to scramble the entire situation in northeast syria to do something they could not attain, which was to put together under their own control a 32 kilometer deep, for 40 kilometer wide security zone in northeast syria of somebody else's country. incentivesoffer them that my colleague and i can go to more detail on in terms of the important lateral relationship as well as the security zone that we set up in the turkish agreement in august, to allow with the agreement of the stf, our partners in the northeast. we refer to them as kurds, but it is a kurdish arabic group. we call it the stf, i think it allow best term, to
patrolling of turkish and american joint units to 30,000 kilometers and the withdrawal of partpg, the pkk oriented of the stf from the immediate area of the border. that was a deal not only on the table but we were executing until turkey decided in october to go for broke with this offensive despite wanting not to do this all the way up to president trump. what is your prognosis as far as attempting to put the genie back in the bottle and back to what was offered to them in the first place? mr. jeffrey: i have to caution everybody that i have been wrong as much as i have been right. i think we are different than one week ago. we have an agreement with turkey that is, as i'm speaking, the 120 hours we agreed on for the ypg forces to withdraw from an
area that was controlled by turkey, that was a term we used where the turkish forces have been. essentially the central 130 kilometers of this for 40 kilometers zone in the north of of syria between the euphrates and iraq, the ypg was to withdraw during that period. the turkish military was to maintain a pause. at the end of that, that is now the turkish military, is to go to a halt, a more permanent essentially cease-fire, although the turks did not want to use that word. meanwhile, we promised during on any0 hours not to put new sanctions on turkey under the executive order on sanctions on syria that we distributed on the 14th of october. with this commitment, if it is met by the turks, we will lift
those sanctions we put on turkish ministers. meanwhile, basically taking a page from what we had done, putin and erdogan got together in russia today to come up with a similar cease-fire in many syria, from the rest of 10 kilometers deep in a potentially not believable russian commitment to get the ypg out of that area, so turkey has not gained much from this but in the process has scramble the entire northeast, undercut efforts against isis, and brought in the russians and the syrian regime forces in a way that is tragic for everybody involved. >> senator menendez. advisenendez: did you the administration to greenlight, in essence, turkey's to invade in syria?
mr. jeffrey: i certainly did not, senator, but nobody in the administration green lit -- presidentdez: so the when he indicated he wanted to get out, which caused the senate to cast a vote to try and dissuade him as well as colleagues on the republican side, wasn't that already the beginning of the end? were you consulted about the removal of troops as precipitously as they were? mr. jeffrey: the president in february modified his decision and agreed we would keep a residual force on. in december, when the president said he would withdraw ground troops, he said he would continue to maintain them in the south and that we would maintain air support -- sen. menendez: but that all changed. now he's may be leaving a couple
hundred of oil fields. where youn is consulted about the withdrawal of troops? mr. jeffrey: i personally was not. you menendez: even though are the special envoy. let me ask you this. isn't it fair to say the stf has been a reliable partner in the fight against isis? mr. jeffrey: absolutely. is in it fair to say we cannot achieve an enduring defeat of isis without ground forces? mr. jeffrey: we need ground forces. they do not necessarily have to be american. sen. menendez: that's right. this is the point. it was the kurds who were largely overgrown forces. it is the kurds who lost 11,000 to 13,000 people. it's the kurds that were detaining over 10,000 isis fighters and families. for us. . it doesn't have to be us, but when you betray the person, the
entity you are fighting on the battlefield with and basically leave them when you're finished using them and say you are on your own, it's a hell of a way to send a global message, in fact, don't fight for the united states, because when they are finished with you, they let you die on the battlefield. isn't it true u.s. troops would be at risk of significantly higher casualties in fighting a resurgent isis without stf partners or similar partners? mr. jeffrey: absolutely. sen. menendez: isn't it true the stf has sought military and political protection from sorrow al-assad's iranian backed government. come torey: they have an agreement in certain areas, that is true. sen. menendez: isn't it true we have a greater risk of creating a vacuum where iran can position itself to build a land bridge to
the mediterranean, which is a threat to our ally, the state of israel? mr. jeffrey: we are looking at all of our political, military, and economic options. sen. menendez: i don't know what the options are. when we get out, we don't have any guarantee on airspace that we can use airspace for any missing -- mission, whether it be anti-isis or defending israel. this and it fair to say iran is not an agent of russia? russia cannot tell iran, thank you for fighting, get out now? mr. jeffrey: you are right. they have divergent interests. both of them are allied against our interests supporting assad. sen. menendez: according to the department of defense inspector general, there are still 14,000 to 18,000 isis fighters despite this conversation about ending the caliphate and other 10,000
the kurdsetained, if have to defend themselves, they will not be busy defending isis fighters. that is potentially a 30,000 hardened force if they reconfigure together. what is our plan to defeat them and to end that threat? one, and for the record, it is the stf, about 50% still maintaining control of essentially all of those detainees, the 10,000 you mentioned. the 14,000 to 18,000 are scattered, if you look at the map, three areas. iraq, the sunni arab areas, the northeast we are talking about today, and the rest of syria under the control of the syrian government or the turks in the northwest. in the assad controlled areas of
syria, isis is running amok without much control. we do some air strikes, but it's not really an area we have a lot of action on other than to monitor it, and strike when we have a good target. in the northeast, that is the area we are focused on. we will continue to work with the stf. the stf leader, the commander has indicated he wants to continue working with us and that's what we are looking at with the options that i mentioned earlier, urgently. we are working with the iraqi government and coalition of 20 or 30 nations from around the world to keep isis under control. ambassador, i have a deep respect for your handce and you are dealt a as a career person. but let me just say, the running area,n the assad control we still have the expectation
that the stf, as they fight their -- for their lives, will be fighting isis for us. it is an incredible expectation. in iraq, the forces transferring out of syria, we are being told by the iraqis that they will not be able to stay. i do not see a strategy or a plan that will make sure that the homeland is secure against a potential of a resurgence of isis that is a threat to the national interest and security of the united states. i hope to see it, but i don't see it as of now, which is why we asked. we think it's only fair all members get a briefing from the secretary of defense, secretary of state, and cia director about the dynamics of this, and we can't seem to get a briefing. something is wrong when we have a major national security interest and members of the senate, democrats and republicans, cannot get a
hearing. i hope you send a message to the administration, that's not acceptable. mr. jeffrey: yes, sir. >> we're going to break here a few minutes. there is two votes. we'll vote on the end of the first one which is now passed. and the beginning of the second one. then we will reconvene due to the importance of this hearing and everyone when they get their thoughts in. so with that, the committee will be at ease. [gavel]
>> this meeting will come to order. i apologize for the delayed, but that's what happens when you try to walk and chew gum at the same time, which we can occasionally do. we have another vote going on. instead of breaking, i think we will rotate the chair. in the meantime, senator romney. i appreciate the testimony of those here today. ambassador jeffrey, your lifetime of service to the efforts as well as the military is remarkable and greatly appreciated. we obviously get defined by events we might not have imagined and this is one of the times for our country appear you -- and of course for you as well. i will ask a few questions briefly and then get to something and more substance, but may be yes or no, if possible. were you on the phone call with president erdogan? mr. jeffrey: i was not, but i was thoroughly briefed. sen. romney: were you consulted
before the decision was made to withdraw the troops? mr. jeffrey: i was consulted on the framework of the call, the points that the president was going to make and such. the specific decision to withdraw our troops has been a longstanding debate within the administration going back to early 2018. sen. romney: but were you advised about the decision to withdraw all of our troops following that erdogan call? mr. jeffrey: that specific decision i was not in advance. sen. romney: do you know when the kurds were informed of the decision? mr. jeffrey: immediately thereafter. sen. romney: do we have a sense of how many kurds have been killed since we withdrew the troops? mr. jeffrey: it's a myth that the area we went into is a largely turkish area. i do it myself. we are talking about the stf and ypg, which are mixed groups, but in that area, it is probably in the low hundreds killed in the
fighting up to the cease-fire thursday. sen. romney: does isis remain a terrorist threat? mr. jeffrey: absolutely. sen. romney: i was impressed with your written testimony and that as you described on the you say the united states at every level has underlie our resolute opposition to this plan as a threat to stf partners, the fight against isis elements, and security in syria. the next page -- page, erdogan said turkey would soon move forward with this long paged operation. the next paragraph, turkey launched this despite objections undermining the campaign, risking and displacing civilians, destroying infrastructure and threatening the security of the area. no discussion here of we wanted to end endless wars and this was the result of a strategy to get
out of the region. instead, basically erdogan said we are coming in, get out-of-the-way, and america blinked. am i reading that wrong? mr. jeffrey: largely correct with one's -- one important exception. it isn't that we got out of the way because we were not militarily in the way. we told turkey we would oppose any such action diplomatically and through sanctions. president was open on that in his tweets. turkey heard this at every level. the leadership either didn't believe it or they thought their existential concert he -- security concerns were overrode what we might do to them and despite a carefully packaged set of incentives and sticks to get them to stay with the agreement andad done in august, suddenly president erdogan told president trump he was not sticking with it.
romney: but we withdrew precipitously. you're saying it's unrelated to the fact that erdogan was coming in militarily? mr. jeffrey: absolutely. the purpose was to observe if there was firing across the border. they were not a defense screen. the troops the president decided to pull back and had been pulled back, they were well south and west of where the turks came in. it's just there was a danger, that as the turks would come in as you look at the map, and as possibly russian and syrian troops, because we knew the stf would turn to them, came in from the west, our troops would be caught in the middle and the retreat path would be. it was prudent i military leaders to get the troops out of the way. >> if one assumes it was good for us to withdraw troops from
syria, if one were to assume that and if one like myself believes it's a good thing we are apparently in a cease-fire setting, would it not have been preferable and desirable for us to have negotiated a posture with turkey and the kurdish allies such that we did not have the casualties that have resulted from turkey coming in and a heavy way and bombing and killing allies, which has given us a terrible black eye around the world and led to unnecessarily casualties? why could this not have been negotiated? mr. jeffrey: again, we negotiated extensively with the turks including the security zone mechanism we had with them, that we were carrying out in august with our troops and their forces. we negotiated until the very moment that erdogan's troops came in. the president wrote president erdogan a letter, the president then followed up with a message to president erdogan urging him not to act and pointing out it
was likely that would simply produce the russians and syrians coming into the northeast which is exactly what happened. so president erdogan, again, looking at the russian/turkish agreement and our agreement from last week, the ypg has pulled back but has not been really defeated or eliminated from the game. so one turkish objective was not achieved and turkey has not gained much territory if that was their objective. we told them all along that this would happen and if they did that, they would run into a great deal of trouble with us, thus the sanctions and other steps we took against them ten days ago now. sen. risch: i would note that the president told president erdogan we were pulling out troops, we did so, and they attacked within a number of hours. you say they were unrelated, but it seems there was a relationship. mr. chairman. [inaudible]
>> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you ambassador jeffrey, thank you for your service and appreciate it very much. you talk about signals sent to turkey and i want to deal with the war crimes that are taking place in that country. are you familiar with the syria war crimes accountability act that was enacted by congress in the national defense authorization act? mr. jeffrey: i am. sen. cardin: are you familiar with the report that was issued under that law? mr. jeffrey: generally, senator. sen. cardin: you might want to tell us about it because i'm not familiar with it. i'm not sure i received it. mr. jeffrey: i would have to look into it, but we are examining war crimes in the context of what's going on in syria, mainly with the regime because that has been our -- sen. cardin: absolutely. and the law required the report within 90 days, i don't believe that was complied with. you're talking about sending the right signals to turkey.
don't you believe if we would have issued visible information about holding those accountable for the current war crimes in syria that may have acted as a deterrent to turkey? mr. jeffrey: i can't speculate on that. i will say if we are supposed to issue our reports within 90 days on something serious like war crimes, we should live up to that requirement. sen. cardin: are you familiar with the reports that have been issued by united nations and other groups about expected war crimes have been committed by the turkish forces in their invasion into northern syria? we haveeffrey: steen some preliminary concerns. we haven't seen any detailed reports. the detailed reports is on the assada thought -- regime's actions throughout syria but we are very concerned about what we and all of us have seen on video footage in some of the reports we've seen from our sdf colleagues and we are looking into those as i speak.
sen. cardin: defense secretary mark esper said last week that turkey appears to be committing war crimes. do you disagree with that? mr. jeffrey: we would say that the turkish supported syrian opposition forces under general turkish command, and at least one instance, did carry out a war crime and we have reached out to turkey to dough manned an explanation. sen. cardin: congress has acted on this making it clear never again should mean never again. the only way that can mean anything as if the regimes that commit war crimes are held accountable and it is not just slipped under the rug as any other resolution of a conflict. do you agree with that? mr. jeffrey: i certainly do, whether they are foes of the united states or allies of ours. sen. cardin: so do we have your commitment here before this committee today that the information concerning these actions will be made available , and if it rises to the level
of war crimes, that the united states will seek an international forum to hold those responsible accountable? mr. jeffrey: within our constitutional requirements to carry out foreign policy this , would be a very high priority. sen. cardin: that's not exactly what i said. my point is are you willing to make an assurance to this committee that you personally will make sure that we don't just once again refuse to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable for their actions? it's a simple answer. mr. jeffrey: we will do everything in our powers in the administration to make sure that the world knows if there are war crimes and that actions are taken, to see that they don't happen again. absolutely. sen. cornyn: well, and i appreciate if you would get back to me in compliance with the law passed by congress as to compliance with the syrian war crimes accountability act. senator rubio and i introduced that legislation, we expect our laws to be carried out. i do think one of the consequences of the failure to
carry out accountability for war crimes are more war crimes that are committed. if we had a clear indication that those crimes that had been committed in syria, that there was a process going on internationally to hold them accountable, i am very confident that turkey may have done things differently in northern syria. mr. jeffrey: we will do our best to adhere to our legal requirements and also the spirit of what you said, senator. sen. cardin: you've indicated you were not consult the in regards to the decision to withdraw our troops from northern syria. do you agree that the consequences of that encouraged or gave an ability for mr. to move forward into northern syria and that that added to the national security concerns of america, which you have already testified to in regards to facilitating russia, iran and the assad regime? mr. jeffrey: no, i do not think
that contributed to this very tragic decision by the turkish government. sen. cardin: so if our troops were still there, if we hadn't removed our troops, you believe we would have seen the same scenario with turkey engaging american troops in northern syria? mr. jeffrey: they would have engaged american troops because it was understood neither side would ever engage the other -- cardin:nyn: so -- sen. so would it not have been different? where our troops are today turkish forces and russian forces are there now. if we had our troops there today , do you think we would have had the same consequences? mr. jeffrey: we had the troops there, the withdrawal did not take place or really start until well after the -- essentially most withdrawals of american troops -- sen. cardin:. do you really believe that turkey was going to do this current engagement even if american troops were in the region? making it very likely there would have been a conflict between two nato allies in northern syria? that's not believable. mr. jeffrey: senator, let me explain this.
if u.s. troops had been given the order to stand and fight against a nato ally, i think you're right, the turks may have thought twice. they have never been given that order over two administrations, in fact, we had told turkey the absolute opposite that we would not oppose them militarily. sen. cardin: you don't think that turkey was holding back an aggression against northern syria because of the u.s. presence in that region? mr. jeffrey: no, i don't think that at all. sen. cornyn: well, i tell you, you've lost me on the credibility of your comments. every person -- every expert i have talked to on the military side have said that turkey would not have risked an engagement against u.s. troops. that that was something that was something that would never have happened. mr. jeffrey: that is absolutely true senator, but the u.s. , troops would have to have had the mission of resisting the turks. they did not have that mission and a good question to ask any military expert that says that
is, did they have that authority and would they have acted without that authority? i think the answer is no they wouldn't. sen. cardin: then you agree with the president's decision? the decision? as a professional, you are fully in accord to the president's decision to relocate our troops? mr. jeffrey: i carry out the instructions of the president. sen. cardin: my question is to you, you know said it didn't have any effect, so do you agree with his policy or not? mr. jeffrey: i agree that presidents have to make that decision, not people in the bureaucracy such as me. sen. cardin: for the record, you did not answer my question. sen. risch: thank you, senator. senator rubio. sen. rubio: thank you. and i apologize this has been asked before. i wanted to get some clarity. the u.s. policy towards syria , the official policy as it was described was that it had three objectives, prevent the resurgence of isis, number two to give the u.s. leverage and any future political solution in syria that would be -- so that
they would arrive at an arrangement pursuant to the security council resolution, which calls for a new constitution and new election, and the withdrawal of all iranian forces. is that an accurate assessment of our syria policy? mr. jeffrey: it is, senator. sen. rubio: is that still our policy? mr. jeffrey: it is, senator. sen. rubio: if that's still our objectives, i wanted to get some background. what we all have heard about the concerns of a couple things on isis, the prisoners going free, the flow into iraq potentially , but also the potential they would see some of these oil fields previously held by the kurds, which have provided revenue, how much thought or preparation are you aware of that went into this decision -- how much thought and preparation went into preventing those things from happening before that decision was made? mr. jeffrey: i can't determine how much thought specifically went into that. what i do know is that we were prepared ever since december of 2018 when the president
announced the withdrawal of u.s. forces over time to deal with the situation when we didn't have u.s. forces on the ground. we were looking at coalition allies, we were looking at u.s. air support in the air and we were looking, again, with other ways to work with the sdf. so we had plans in place and these plans of course are largely still in effect. the people being detained are still being detained by the sdf , not by us, and the stabilization operations against isis along the euphrates by the sdf are still going on. fortunately we still have forces -- sen. rubio: yes, but we we had to have known the absence of a u.s. presence would make it harder for the sdf to focus on those priorities, they would have to make their number one priority facing the turks. so was there any advanced thought given to if we leave , here's what we are going to do to make sure the sdf can still do these things? mr. jeffrey: exactly.
what we realized was we had to work some kind of arrangement between turkey and the sdf so that the sdf would not be, as you said, diverted from the fight against keeping isis suppressed because isis as a state has been defeated since march. stucking the forces up to stand off against the turks, so that was part of our overall strategy, that's why we did the joint security mechanism with the turks in august -- sen. rubio: but none of those plans are in effect any longer. mr. jeffrey: no but now we have a ceasefire that has replaced them. sen. rubio: that ceasefire expires in a couple minutes. i don't know what the time is over there. mr. jeffrey: the ceasefire under the terms of the agreement we're verifying this now if both sides agree it has been fully agreed -- maintained, and we already have a letter from the commander of the sdf forces, kobani, that it has been adhered to, we're waiting for the turkish. if so, then it isn't a ceasefire, becomes a halt of turkish military operations, so
it is, in effect, a more permanent cease-fire, i believe so. sen. rubio: so you're saying you believe if they withdraw from these areas, that the kurdish forces will still be able to house these isis killers? mr. jeffrey: we are looking at a whole series of options under this different set of circumstances including what we will be doing with our forces as we continue the withdrawal. where will be be working with sdf, with us, with our coalition partners, and airpower. sen. rubio: i must ask, why would the kurds care what we want them to do any longer, we are not there alongside them, they have had to have aligned themselves with assad and the regime. why are they even interested in our opinion at this point? mr. jeffrey: the kurds -- i'm sorry, the sdf never fought isis because we wanted them to, they fought isis because it was an existential threat to them to deal with isis and they still feel that way. quickly, let me ask you about the withdrawal of iranian forces. how do we do that now? how do we prevent iran from
seizing some oil fields and using it to generate revenue to recoup the cost of their engagement in syria, but also it gives them some leverage over some of these arab tribes in the area -- what is our plan to limit that? where do we do that from? mr. jeffrey: it's part of an overall political settlement to this conflict in syria. first of all -- sen. rubio: what seat do we have at that table? we are not there anymore. mr. jeffrey: we are still there, senator. sen. rubio: in the southern part. mr. jeffrey: we never placed primary responsibility for our overall policies in syria on our u.s. military presence. that was primarily devoted to defeating isis and it was very successful doing so. but the turkish presence in the northwest, which we generally do support, is really operations against iran inside syria, which we don't talk about the israelis don't talk about, but they do continue. we're supportive of israeli operations. we are very supportive of diplomatic and particularly
economic pressure against the assad regime. our hope is if the assad regime wants to return to the international community of nations, it has to do certain things. at the top of the list is inviting iranian forces to go home. senator rubio: i'm out of time, but i will say it's my belief that erdogan's goal is not a safe zone, it's a strip of land from the iraqi border to the euphrates under his control that has few, if any, kurds there where, he can relocate 3.5 million syrian refugees back into the country. that's his real goal, is it not? mr. jeffrey: he has said publicly, repeatedly, including in new york at the u.n. that that is his goal. it is my assessment that he is not going to get that or anything close to that. sen. rubio: but that's what he said is his goal. mr. jeffrey: absolutely. >> senator shaheen. sen. shaheen: thank you. ambassador jeffrey, the joint statement that you negotiated with the turks doesn't specifically define the parameters of the safe zone.
can you clarify the areas where turkish troops can operate according to the agreement? mr. jeffrey: it was actually vice president pence who negotiated it. we were just there supporting him. that's a very good question. we never used a map. we basically used at the time , the thing went into effect was 22:00 at night ankara time on the 17th of october, wherever turkish troops were is where this safe zone that we referred to existed. this sounds like a sloppy way to do things, it actually worked. the sdf/ypg forces knew what that region was because i had personally been in constant contact with them throughout the negotiation. the turks knew from their forces were and that is exactly what we have seen. it has worked because we didn't get specific because we did not want to challenge various turkish interpretations of what a safe zone should be like.
we wanted to focus on where the turkish forces and ypg forces were in that area. they have all withdrawing and -- withdrawn as have been reported to us, and the turkish forces aside from minor changes have not moved. so it has worked, but it basically is essentially when we did the security mechanism in on this we established a central block in northeast syria along the turkish border -- sen. shaheen: i understand that. i'm sorry to interrupt but i'm running out of time here, you're using ypg and sdf interchangeably and you have -- interchangeably and you have said that the ypg has withdrawn from that zone. is it true that sdf forces have withdrawn from that zone? mr. jeffrey: that was the decision of the sdf commander, yes. saidshaheen: because he they had withdrawn? mr. jeffrey: yes. sen. shaheen: we had a meeting last night with the head of the syrian democratic council who did not reaffirm that. she suggested that they have not withdrawn from that safe zone. mr. jeffrey: one, we have a
written letter to the vice president from kobani saying that, two, on the ground we believe that's the case, yeah, i are asking the turks if they have spotted anyone. i think that that commitment was -- and it was for all armed personnel. did he not distinguish and i think that was a good decision between the ypg which is a kurdish offshoot of the pkk. sen. shaheen: i understand. that joint statement also said that turkey and the united states are committed to deisis and daesh activities in northeast syria including coordination on detention facilities. exactly what did the turks commit to in terms of securing isis detention facilities and camps in northeast syria? mr. jeffrey: we began talks with them in january 2018 after the president announced the withdrawal in december and the turks showed some interest and
staff work concerning detention facilities in that up to 30 kilometer deep zone. there are very few detention in the areaight now where the turks are, so the question at the moment is pretty moot. sen. shaheen: but they did, in fact, shell two prisons that the syrian democratic forces had to flee from to escape the shelling, is that correct? detainees were able to escape from those two facilities. mr. jeffrey: i will check. i think one was a displaced persons camp for people who are basically associated with isis , so they weren't technically detainees, but we will check that is true, a few people did , escape. sen. shaheen: so how exactly will turkey prevent an isis resurgence, and what have they committed to do to continue to fight isis? mr. jeffrey: in the area where turkey is and in fact in the entire area along the turkish
border 30 kilometers deep, there is little essence presence. the isis presence has been along -- little isis presence. the isis presence has been along the euphrates far to the south and in the area west of the euphrates. turkey has a fairly good record of fighting isis in northwest if isisnd i'm sure that showed up, turkey would take it on as well because it has been repeatedly attacked by isis inside turkey. coordinateperate -- with information concerning isis and operations we do. we are used to doing that. but again, isis is not a major issue at that part of the northeast at present. sen. shaheen: i appreciate that, because with the sdf and our support, we have driven them out. mr. jeffrey: exactly. sen. shaheen: but those that suggest that turkey is not quick to move into manbich? mr. jeffrey: turkey is not going
to move into manbich according to the agreement we have with the russians. sen. shaheen: so russia has moved in? mr. jeffrey: syrian forces and some russian advisors are in manbich right now and judging from this agreement, they have no intention of letting turkey not back in, but into it. final question, can you speak to now iran has been empowered by our decision to move out of syria? mr. jeffrey: iran is under extraordinarily tough economic sanctions. it is under pressure from israel, supported by us and our allies throughout the region. i don't see it being empowered particularly. the one area iran is interested in is the american forces in the south along the main east/west highway from tehran to beirut and president trump has decided we will not pull out of there. i don't think iran is particularly empowered by this.
sen. shaheen: so you don't think that our moving out and allowing russia and iran and assad to decide the future fate of syria helps to empower iran in the middle east? mr. jeffrey: we haven't decided on anybody other than the syrian people under the relevant u.n. resolutions to decide the fate of syria and we certainly haven't handed it off to those guys. sen. shaheen: we may not have, but we are not there anymore and russia and iran is there and so is assad. mr. jeffrey: again, the u.s. air force is very much there right now and we will see that's now something that the department of defense and the white house are looking at. our military forces are still there and plan on being there. honestly i'm a diplomat. this is a senate foreign relations committee. the only tool -- military power is not the only tool we use to achieve our goals in this world, we use diplomatic, we use political, with he use economic.
sen. shaheen: i understand that, but when we pulled out the troops, we had earlier pulled out our diplomatic personnel, our usaid personnel, we had stopped -- this administration had stopped the stabilization funding that congress appropriated last year so that it didn't go into syria. so the other tools that we have to support a solution in syria have also been taken away. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. senator johnson. sen. johnson: ambassador, thank you for your service. chairman started out his questioning or opening statement with a little bit of a history lesson. i want to throw a couple more details in here. the arab spring protest in syria began in the spring of 2011, at that point in time syria's population was 22 million. today it's about 17 million, 5.5 million people are refugees outside, 3.6 million i believe are in turkey, 6 million syrians displaced within syria. so you have half the population out of their homes. it's a mess.
by december 2013, there are already about 100,000 syrians dead in the conflict. june 2014, isis moves in and takes over mosul. ofppo finally falls in july 2016 after all the barrel bombing. by the time this administration took office, there were 400,000 to 500,000 people already killed in syria. iran, russia, assad pretty well won the war. the kurds obviously joined us in defeating isis because they were able to take over about one third of syrian territory, correct? mr. jeffrey: mainly because they had an existential threat from isis, but in the process, they took over a third of syria. set johnson -- sen. johnson: one of my questions we talk about leverage, now, we don't have leverage. what leverage did we have let's
say january 2013 after a lep mow fell and iran, russia and assad were pretty much in control of two-thirds of syria? mr. jeffrey: first of all, we had the leverage of a totally broken state which is what we still have today. your statistics are right, senator, about half the population of syria is not under assad's control, much of the area of syria is not under assad's control that includes much of the northwest. we will see how it goes in the northeast in the days and weeks ahead. some is under turkish control right now, the sdf and we are still to the south of that 30 kilometer deep band. that's pressure on them. again, assad has israel and the iranians have israel to contend with in basically a silent war in the skies and on the ground in syria and the country is an international pariah. it has been ejected from the arab league, there is no reconstruction assistance flowing into that country from anywhere and we have no difficulty mobilizing international sentiment in the you and -- u.n. or anyplace else
against assad until blocked of course by russia. sen. johnson: my concern is i don't want to see an ethnic cleansing, i don't want to see isis fighters released, i don't want to see isis reconstituted. in your testimony, you already said that sdf and turkey make sure that isis fighters don't regain the battlefield. correct? mr. jeffrey: both turkey and sdf have fought against isis and in certain areas, particularly in the case of turkey sdf has , always been effective. if they are not forced to face off against each other, we can rely on both of them against isis. sen. johnson: where do the 3.6 million refugees from syria residing in turkey now, where do they come from? mr. jeffrey: they came mainly from the arab area, there's about 300,000 kurds who fled because they're politically not aligned with the -- essentially pro pkk sentiments of the pyd , which is a political ring of the ypg, the military force.
most of them came from arab areas. the aleppo area in particular all the way down to the jordanian border. they fled across into turkey. sen. johnson: so the sdf and the kurds, are they just primarily protecting the region of syria they always occupied or have they moved into sunni areas that the sunnis, if they could ever return from refugee status into syria, you will have a dispute into who owns what? which wasy: the ypg, the kurdish militia we joined up with with ties to the pkk, as it spread out into arab areas with our encouragement in the fight against isis down along the euphrates into manbich, renamed itself in 2007 sdf syrian democratic forces to reflect the fact that it is now an arab as well as kurdish force. yeah, i mean, their motivation was to take out isis in the process they wound up with a lot of territory which is not uncommon.
sen. johnson: precisely, but is that going to be a festering problem -- hopefully at one point, we are saving lives in syria and now you have 5.5 million refugees trying to return from syria. will some be basically squatting in their homes? mr. jeffrey: that was on our top 10 list of festering problems, the idea that we had a largely kurdish-led fighters over a significant part of the arab population, but not one of the top five problems. sen. johnson: are we going to maintain a no-fly zone in effect . are we still willing to do that? mr. jeffrey: we are doing that at the moment. where our forces are, over the northeast, how the thinking is in the pentagon and what we will do in the days ahead, i'm not fully abreast of, but when we have sifted out options, they will share them with us. sen. johnson: i would certainly encourage the administration to maintain that no fly zone, that would be one of the ways we
could prevent ethnic cleansing and further slaughter. thank you, ambassador. would like to thank chairman risch and ranking member menendez. i would like to thank both of you for your service. no one likes to see american troops continuing to serve and fight in the middle east and southwest asia indefinitely, but president trump's abrupt , premature, and ill considered withdrawal and utter lack of a strategy for the path forward in syria, i think will prove to be both a tactical and strategic blunder and i think his abandonment of the kurds will long stand as a stain on america's reputation. i am principally concerned, ambassador jeffrey if i can, , initially, in asking you about isis. one of my core concerns is not only have we ceded territory and forces to assaults supported by russia and iranian regulars, but we also may have breathed more life into isis. i
i was struck that in your prepared testimony, you said, "u.s. strategic objectives and national security interests in syria remain, the enduring defeat of isis, the reduction and expulsion of iranian maligned influence and the resolution of the syrian civil war on terms favorable to the united states." vectors, ie of those think this decision makes us worse off. let me first ask about isis. do we know how many hardened isis fighters escaped detention? mr. jeffrey: we don't have hard numbers, but it was few so far. that could change, but for the moment, very few. sen. coons: is that dozens or hundreds? mr. jeffrey: i would say dozens. sen. coons: there were press reports that put it in the do we have any idea how those hundreds. escaped isis fighters will be tracked, accounted for and recap -- recaptured? mr. jeffrey: at the moment we don't. sen. coons: how many isis fighters do you believe are still in a detention facility
managed either by kurdish fighters or otherwise? mr. jeffrey: essentially, the numbers we had before 10,000. sen. coons: how secure are those isis fighters? 3 mr. jeffrey: as long as the situation remains stable and we returned to something like stability -- sen. coons: with you described this as a stable situation? mr. jeffrey: since thursday with the cease-fire, yes. sen. coons: what confidence you have that the 10,000 isis fighters are secure and appropriately monitored, even as the sdf is in full retreat, the u.s. is largely retreating, and a combination of turkish, russian, at syrian children are flooding into an ill-defined area? mr. jeffrey: throughout the vast majority of northeast syria, sdf forces are in control of the terrain and detention centers located, most of them below 32 kilometer east-west highway.
with the new russian agreement, there may be detention facilities in that area, and as they are calling for -- the russians are claiming they will work to facilitate to get the ypg element, we will have to see that goes on. for the moment, these facilities are being maintained and we have commitments by the sdf and we have learned to have faith in their commitments. sen. coons: should the sdf have faith in our commitments? mr. jeffrey: we gave them a commitment to do everything in our power to forestall any turkish incursion into northeast syria. we did not succeed on that, obviously, but we did succeed in bringing it to a halt by the negotiations we did on the cease-fire achieved on the 17th of october. sen. coons: with the press reports today that kurdish civilians are pelting our departing troops with rocks and food, with that suggest we have one over there trust? mr. jeffrey: i would have to see whether those -- we still -- the
troops were withdrawing, because this is our priority from that area, which is part of the west. -- those weres kurdish children or arab children and whether the regime was there, we have to look into whose idea that was.that's only place i have ever seen stones and fruit thrown at soldiers anywhere in the northeast. again, as that is an area the assad regime has forces and, we need to look into that. sen. coons: there is fairly broad reporting that american troops who served alongside kurdish partners, that military leaders, intelligence community theers, and the leaders of syrian democratic forces, the kurds themselves, have all agreed this was a tragic mistake, that this was a betrayal of the trust they put enough. i will close by asking what you see as the future of nato's role in turkey and the united state'' turkish relationship.
in a previous exchange with another senator, you characterize it accidentally, our president got rolled by an erdogan,e president who said, i have my troops on the border, i'm ready to go, and after months of us asserting, they shouldn't do it but went ahead and did it. this is supposed to be our nato ally. what do you see is the future of our alliance with turkey? mr. jeffrey: we need to have serious conversations with turkey over this. the president didn't get rolled, percent. as soon as the turks came in, the president and a very -- sen. coons: he enacted a prompt and speedy withdrawal? mr. jeffrey: no, a prompt and speedy set of sanctions against turkey, followed up by even stronger ones from the u.s. congress and pulled from the will,various, if you incentives for turkey to behave better and set into motion the diplomacy that led to a cease-fire? . sen. coons: announcer what i is the most unreliable,
undisciplined and inappropriate actions by the president and abandoning kurdish allies, i'm grateful the chairman and minority leader of this committee have joined in introducing legislation, which i hope to join. whether it is that bill or other bills, i think we in congress need to demonstrate our ability to advance sanctions legislation that may endure beyond the next week or phone call. thank you, ambassador. -- tweet or phone call. thank you, ambassador. sen. portman: thank you for your service. you have been a stalwart on foreign policy issues, including tried to figure out the most complex and volatile part of the world. it's not easy. it's a messy situation. i see it pretty simply. we had a small number of troops, mostly special operators keeping the peace. it was a perfect. it never is in that part of the world, but we were avoiding some of the problems we see, including not just the iranian
backed forces and syrians coming in, but the russians coming in. that video of the russian journalist today after walking to the base haunts me. of course, what we have done with regard to the kurds. i will ask you about that in a moment. to me, this is about the kurds, but also our allies and potential allies in the future and what impact that will have. finally, the displacement of more refugees. that area has already seen its share of refugees. now there are many more. i guess finally, isis. you said you think only dozens of isis fighters have been released. i've heard larger numbers. the point is, we have formed herself in a situation where because of the unsettled nature of that buffer region, much of what the kurds were doing to restrain the isis fighters and family members has been disrupted. i guess i won't ask you to agree or disagree on that assessment.
want to put you on the spot. you have been an able reporter on what you think is happening. you have reported your own personal views, but those are mine. on the issue of what this does going forward, i think about a rack and the role decay argie -- and the krg. what will this do to those arab kurd communities in those parts of syria? what will the withdrawal and actions here do to affect our relationship with those forces and can we continue to work with them? mr. jeffrey: that may be a good analogy, senator. as you know, our partners for puk and the kdp,
kurdish parties in northern iraq, have decided to have an independence referendum without properly consulting us. they got our views, we thought , in the big mistake fall of 2017. when this happened, the iraqi army moved into an area where the kurdish regional government had extended its sway after saddam had fallen, and through some fairly significant fighting, took back the oil-rich province. that was a big blow to the kurds. they thought we invented them. our argument is we never guaranty. military we try to work out and i was involved in that as long as people here today, trying to do oil deals and other deals between the kurds in the north and the central government in baghdad. again, we did not succeed in
stopping conflict from occurring. we did succeed very quickly in bringing that conflict to a halt and then bringing the two sides together. i would say that's an example of how not using military force but using diplomacy and economic and energy tools, we can keep a relationship with the kurds. sen. portman: i hope you're right. i don't mean to cut you off, but i can't imagine there's not an impact here on the kurds more broadly and other red lies -- allies around the world. you have used the words incentives a lot today to talk about what was on the table previously. i don't know if you feel you are able to talk about those discussions with turkey, but i had always hoped part of the way we could resolve the problems with regard to turkey and the kurds was through commercial activities, specifically trade. i had reason to believe, based on some reporting, and fact from folks at the state department, that this was a possibility.
what happened? why did the turks not take us up on our offer to expand trade? we do quite a bit of trade with them already, steel. i know there are new sanctions. why didn't those incentives work, and how could they work better going forward? is that what you are referring to? mr. jeffrey: mr. jeffrey: this was an attractive package. the issue was not with the kurds. in some elections, a high percentage of kurds voted for president, formerly prime minister erdogan's party. it is what the turks see as a terrorist organization in syria, the syrian wing of the ypg, which became for very good reasons which i agree with today , our allies against isis. they were the only people who could fight isis at the time. as part of the deal with us,
they agreed not to take any actions against turkey and they have lived up to that agreement. but they were still seeing as a latent threat on turkey's border, like israel sees has bowl up as a latent threat on as aorder -- hezbollah latent threat on its border, that is the point i made in my major states in a region, neighboring an area where we have forces, have their own vote in any conflict and they will look to their existential concerns. we think they made the wrong assessment. we think they could have eventually had a better relationship with this wing of the pkk. they have been in discussions with them up until 2015 in and kara. thought they we could get back to this so we did joint patrolling in ypg areas.
they were the silent third partner. we had a deal going. in october, president erdogan in a sense decided we are not going to go with this anymore. we don't care about the incentives. we want to deal with this problem. we are looking into why they decided to do that. we think it was a mistake and as i said, a are not more secure today, we are not more secure today because of that action. sen. portman: and none of the incentives were implemented? mr. jeffrey: they are in play. we will have to see how our relations with turkey continue on. , i have beenve enviable job of syria and he has the enviable job of turkey. sen. portman: the turkish government, president erdogan is interested in expanding the
trade relationship with the u.s. we had talks with the turks about enhancing and building on the trade relationship, targeting $100 billion per year in annual trade, that is an ambitious target but the conversations in play about how it is we might approach that target. as we would look at it, turkey was very interested in this package, felt like what was going on in northeast syria represented a security threat and made a decision that was a security decision rather than a commercial, economic decision. we look forward to the opportunity to restore balance to the u.s.-turkey relationship and going back to discussing the mechanisms through which we can strengthen the trade and commercial relationship. portman: thank you. sen. udall: thank you for working to get us this hearing. to be up front.
i have major concerns with our syrian deployment when it began under the prior administration and i opposed the decision to arm the kurds and other groups in syria. for one, the deployment in authorized by congress. i voted for the 2001 authorization and never dreamed it would be used to justify u.s. forces deployed in the middle of a syrian civil war 18 years later. in addition, this deployment carried obvious risks of entangling us in a situation where there would never be a good way to get out. it was never in u.s. interests and resolve masse the civil war. the turkish concerns with todish militants using syria launch terrorist attacks against them was not going to go away. the problem we face today was foreseeable. what was not foreseeable was the strange and sudden way this withdrawal was carried out.
our troops had to withdraw very quickly, placing them at increased risk to enemy or .nadvertently friendly fire the russians are broadcasting propaganda from our former bases. the president had a year to work out the details of this withdrawal but instead, his hasty order put our troops at risk and strained relationship with our partners in the region ally,r allied -- our turkey. instead of a well executed and of operations in syria, we are guessing what the president will decide on any given day and what his actual motivations are while crossing our fingers that he has been adequately briefed by policy experts like yourself. in this context, it is appropriate to remember that attended theogan ribbon-cutting for trump tower in istanbul. the trump family received several million dollars per year in licensing fees for these buildings. we don't know for sure because
the president refuses to reveal his financial information. president erdogan threatened the president's financial interests in istanbul before, it in 2016 when canada trump was calling for a ban on muslim immigration. the wall street journal quoted erdogan as saying, they put that brand on this building and it must be swiftly taken down. does it concern you that the president of the united states is -- has an active business interest in turkey at the same time that our nation, including you, are engaged in high-stakes diplomatic engagement and the president of turkey threatened that business interest at least once that we know of? mr. jeffrey: i'm comfortable with my role working on syria. i will leave it at that. sen. udall: i don't want to -- you don't want to answer the question? mr. jeffrey: i don't but we have
the officer responsible for turkish affairs here. mr. palmer: the issues you have raised have never been part of any conversation with turkish officials of which i have been a part. sen. udall: has anyone ever discussed the trump organization's business interests in turkey with either one of you? mr. jeffrey: no. mr. palmer: never. sen. udall: you said the united states and turkey need each other. i believe we need to return to a dialogue that addresses the rift that occurred as both countries got pulled into conflict in syria. how do we repair that rift? will sanctions against turkey in your opinion lead to a solution or continue to increase that rift? will sanctions on turkey help or hurt the u.s. effort to counter russian and chinese interests in the middle east and europe as well as irani and once? mr. palmer: having spent the weekend before last night and day, again, there were people
here with me, and -- imposing sanctions on turkey, i am not against sanctioning turkey. we did that because of its actions against our better judgment in going into syria two weeks ago, but we believe instrumentre a blunt and the best way to use them is to affect changes in behavior. it is my belief, and i was there in the negotiations with vice theident pence, that potential additional sanctions, to be levied a most immediately and in particular the sanctions that were being prepared in congress, were a major factor on the achievement of a cease-fire by another name the day after the entire turkish leadership and press comments said there would be no cease-fire. then there was a cease-fire. that is a good example of what
you can do with sanctions but sanctions as they are being levied, if behavior changes, have to be lifted. that is how i see sanctions is being used. sen. udall: do you have anything to add? mr. palmer: no, i agree with what mr. jeffrey says. toctions, the easier it is put them in place and remove them, the better it is as a tool for us to use in influencing behavior. the goal is to affect the behavior of target states. sen. udall: thank you, mr. chairman. palmer ambassador -- >> ambassador jeffrey, do you believe the civil war in syria basharemated and al-assad will continue to be in charge of the syrian government? mr. jeffrey: it is stalemated cost. extraordinary human
half the population has fled. they are getting no money. it is basically a pile of rubble. i think it is open to question whether assad personally will lead the country indefinitely. sen. paul: i would disagree. i think he will stay barring something extraordinary happening. one of the things that will happen from this that i don't know if anybody could have predicted, one of the reasons why we haven't had a peace agreement is our position through the human agreement, fair elections, and a sawed doesn't win fair elections. one of our goals has been regime change. if you take the u.n. resolution to be fair and elections which aren't going to happen, the thing is, we have now disrupted things as we have -- and as we have disrupted things, the kurds are fighting alongside assad. i think the kurds have a better chance, we were never staying forever and it was never our
goal to have a kurdish area. i think there are parallels to the kurdish area within a rock that could happen within syria. i don't think we will be of any use if we still maintain that regime change has to come before we get any talks. that is why i think we will be bypassed and it might be a good thing that we are largely bypassed and we have less of a role in syria, because the russians have the ability to talk to erdogan and assad. if erdogan can be convinced that his border can be controlled by a real government, that is the problem. there hasn't been a real government or anybody able to control the territory. as the russians, the kurds and thed ally to control territory, it is a matter of two people talking, aside -- assad and erdogan. the chance for peace has a better chance now than it ever has but i don't think we will be a part of it. as long as we will not have a discussion with assad, i think he will remain, barring an
assassination or internal up evil within his government. i think he does remain. it is not because i want him to. i have as much use for him as i do for erdogan. they are both authoritarians. i don't see our role forward if we are adamant that this u.n. assad has 2254, means to go before weakening to jim, is it our government's position and you as part of the government, that we don't talk ad anti-can't be part of negotiations? mr. jeffrey: we don't talk to him, but he has to be part of negotiations. having been involved in one or two regime change adventures, this is different. this is not our idea to overthrow assad. president trump sent a classified position to congress on the first of
march this year laying out our policies and he says it is explicitly that it is not to assad. he poses a unique threat. erdogan doesn't believe he will protect the border. erdogan thinks he will use the kurds against him. >> the work goes on forever until somebody begins to talk to assad or assad is gone. the realism of this is, we have to see the world as it is, not paint in black and white and jefferson will come riding in on a horse. i know you see the world that way but i think we haven't yet gotten there in syria to see the world in a realistic way. knowing full well there are things we don't like about the authoritarianism of most of the people over there, yet we deal with them on a daily basis. i think piece is prevented, i
think assad is staying until someone talks to them. i think it will happen without us. i agree there are disagreements andeen assad and erdogan they don't right now trust him but there is a possibility. the russians will also be an influence. the russians are becoming players and we have this this political hysteria that somehow if anyone talks to putin, you somehow don't love your country. yet the israelis talk to the russians. everybody seems to have a realistic understanding of the world more than we do, particularly in our politically motivated world. my advice is to keep an open and with regard to assad negotiation and perhaps it is something that happens without us getting in the way. sen. murphy: thank you very much. respect for amazing the work you have done
throughout your career and the job you have taken on most recently. that is why the most stunning testimony we have heard today came in answer to senator menendez's questioning when he asked whether you had been consulted prior to this momentous decision being made. i don't really know why we have someone with the title special representative for syria engagement and special envoy to the global coalition to defeat isis if they are not consulted before the president takes the most significant single action affecting u.s. interests in syria and the future of isis during his presidency. i think it speaks to the utter chaos of american foreign policy today, that you were not consulted or talked to about this decision prior to it being made. i had a recently retired general who commanded or oversaw american troops in syria in my office last night. he was distraught. in part, because he tells me the
usinghat our soldiers are as they are moving out of their "betrayal p they have been embedded with the kurds, the stp, and they feel like they have been part of a betrayal of the forces that they have been supporting and fighting alongside. one of their specific grievances is that we convinced the kurds to dismantle some of their defenses along the border with in anticipation of the united states and turkey being able to work out some joint patrols. but in tearing down those defensive, -- those defenses, it left the kurds much more susceptible to the inevitable attack that came. in retrospect, do you think it was a good idea for the united states to press the kurds into dismantling these defenses? the things: of all
that i have experienced in this particular portfolio, particularly this subsector of it with the turks and the kurds, the think i'm -- the thing i'm most concerned about is that having agreed to a way forward in august, turkey, to do joint patrols and dismantling ,ortifications, suddenly inexplicably from my standpoint, the turkish leadership decided they would just march in and do it all themselves. the requirements of the august for thet work -- were ypg to dismantle fortifications in what we call the save sown but the zone we are talking about. the truth is, that is the one thing they didn't do a good job of. coulds they thought they see what was coming and this was a major bone of contention between us, the turks and the sdf. sen. murphy: we could draw
,ssues with the turks' decision but it would have been additional reason for us not to sell them out by removing forces given that we had asked them to take this extraordinary measure, which they took in anticipation of us remaining the bulwark tween them in the turks. part of your testimony i am having on -- trouble understanding is your believe the president has not green lit theid not green light actions by turkey. sunday night, the president sent a press release in which he said that he had just gotten off the phone with the president of turkey and they would now be moving forward with their long planned operation into northern syria. he took the one action that was a precondition to the turks mounting an offensive, which was the removal of our forces, and since then, he has defended turkey's actions. he said "they've got to be --
keep going at each other." its artificial to have the soldiers walking up and down between these two countries. he said, like two kids and a lot, you have to let them fight. the world read that statement sunday night. it listened to the president defend the decision of turkey to enter syria. it listened to the president talk as if it is a good thing that the two sides are now fighting each other without the united states in the middle of it. how is the world not to read all of those actions as a clear green light to turkey? the president is defending the decision that he made. a couple points. first, the president did say those things. he also said many other things, including "i will crush the economy" because erdogan released, or we released a .etter to president erdogan the president took very tough language with president erdogan
and advocated some kind of agreement or arrangement with the sdf leader. , and i think it is a very important point, the idea of the trail and giving a green light, it's as if our troops in northeast syria were like our troops along the korean dmz, to hold off a force. that is not what they were. they were two outposts of 12 people along that whole area of 140 kilometers and we told the turks, i was involved in telling them that, that is to observe whether the kurds are shooting across the order at you or you are shooting at them. that was not a security perimeter of any sort. the forces we eventually did move were way west of any of this fighting, and they were moved again, dod can explain why but looking at him the map, it was clear pretty soon they would've been cut off as the
turks came down the main east-west highway. that is my understanding about why the decision was made. having followed up sensibly turkish, including intelligence i can't get into here, to -- turkish views on this, of all the things i saw and they are all over the map, i never once saw any turk in any way in a position of responsibility saying, what are we going to do about those u.s. military forces? they knew they did not have an order to defend the kurds. sen. murphy: you don't think our forces were a deterrent? mr. jeffrey: absolutely not. i will cite ash carter sunday on them i think it was with stephanopoulos when he was asked that and he said the last administration never told the kurds we would defend the militarily against turkey. this was followed up by a general on face the nation who
said the same thing. sen. murphy: i think our soldiers on the ground related to believe something fundamentally different. query as to how are soldiers who were carrying out the mission felt they were betraying the kurds, if ultimately part of the reason for being there wasn't to protect them against the very nation on their border that was seeking to destroy them. >> thank you. produced trump retreat vivid pictures of u.s. troops pelted by stones and rotting vegetables as they walked away from their kurdish battlefield allies. the consequences of the trump retreat are at least the following. empowering turkey, iran, russia, and the regime of assad. turkey is a very complicated ally that is no sliding towards
adversary. iran is an adversary. pariah and russia is an adversary. the second consequence is to likely leave, based on the military testimony i am hearing on the armed services side, the other committee on which i sit, to a renewed threat of isis posing a threat to the united states and other nations. we have already seen prisoners escaped. the numbers are in dispute but in the chaos that is to follow, the worry is that it would be more. whobandoned the u.s. ally fought valiantly with us, and it is more than abandoning them. when the president goes out of his way to say the kurds are no angels, white trash them on the way out the door? outhy trash them on the way the door? if you have to do this because turkey is coming across the border, you could just say that. why trash the kurds and make them sound like they are not the partner the u.s. has been the most successful working within the battle against isis?
the way for ethnic cleansing against the kurds already. the reports are that 176,000 kurds, half of whom are children, more than 80,000 have been children, have been displaced in two weeks in the turkish incursion across the border. finally, a consequence is sending a bizarre message about u.s. priorities. we are pulling troops but we will put troops around oil fields. we want to protect oil fields for my sister we are not interested in protecting kurds that wekey -- from isis are not interested in protecting kurds from turkey. we will put troops in saudi arabia. the president says because they will pay for us to do it. are we mercenaries now? is that what kids like my son, who is a marine, our? a mercenary? the question raised by all of these consequences from the trump retreat is, what would anybody think about partnering
with us if there is a tough battle ahead against a non-state terrorist? and we or someone else ask, if isis researches and we ask the kurds to help us again, i think i know what the answer is going to be. ambassador jeffrey, you have been blunt and i appreciate it. i appreciate your candor in your response to senator menendez about whether you, who have been specifically cast by this administration with the responsibility of helping manage difficulttedly situation and the global coalition against isis, if you were not consulted with, if you are not consulted with about this withdrawal, that speaks volumes about its chaotic and ad hoc nature. one of the achievements that you, i think, get credit for a -- is that you convinced britain and france in july to increase
their presence in the region, to try to help us deal with isis. my understanding is, it wasn't just you who weren't consulted by the administration but britain and france, who three to try to agreed protect against isis and work with the kurds. my understanding is, they were not consulted with either. do you have any reason to doubt what i am saying? mr. jeffrey: thank you for giving me a chance to try again with senator menendez's question. i was telling the truth when i wasn't consulted. iraq, then-president bush took decisions concerning iraq where i wasn't consulted. then again, in the same city, baghdad, when i was ambassador under president obama, including the withdrawal of u.s. forces, he took decisions without consulting me. in my current job, i feel my views through secretary pompeo
have been brought repeatedly and frequently and i think in many cases, effectively, -- >> sen. kaine: are you professionally in different to the matter to which you have devoted your entire public service career? you came out of retirement to do decisionlt job and a has made, you are not even asked what you think and that doesn't cause you any concern about what -- any concern whatsoever? mr. jeffrey: if it was the first time it might have but it has happened repeatedly in senior positions. again, you have to -- i hope you would retain enough about moral abouts to have outrage things that are outrageous. i will conclude and say, if the administration had come to us with this as a plan for months ago, here's what we think the
solution is. we want to empower russia, turkey, iran, assad, we don't want to run the risk of isis. we want to -- we don't want to send a mixed message. if they came to this committee and said this is what we want to do, what you think? the committee would have laughed them out of the room. that is where we have arrived by an ad hoc rescission without consulting with the committee. i'm not -- i don't mind being not consulted with. being not consulted with. not having the administration proposing a plan and letting us ask questions and make suggestions. but we find out about -- about it by tweet and that really bothers me. sen. cruz: thank you for your testimony. debate a discussion and that i think sometimes gives way to caricature, gives way to two
different extremes and poles, that there are some in the political world who seem to advocate that we should stay in toia forever and attempt remake that country as a democratic utopia in our image. there are others who seem to advocate that we should immediately and precipitously withdraw. i tend to think the american people agree with neither of those, that neither of them are right are accurate and make sense and the touchstone of our foreign policy should be the vital national security interest of the united states. i think it is worth pausing to recognize that the defeat of isis emma taking away their so-called caliphate, is an extraordinary national security interest for the united states, something which the trump administration and the brave men and women in our armed services deserve credit for winning that victory. i agree with the president's
ultimate objective of bringing our soldiers home. i think the american people have a limited time and patience for our sons and daughters being in harm's way. that said, i think the way this decision was executed was precipitous and risked very serious negative the two other -- that are most problematic is 1. i am concerned there is a substantial response of -- substantial possibility of isis returning. there are 15,000 isis fighters that remain in iraq and syria. pulling out without an effective tonterterrorism strategy combat those fighters risks alternatelyrs attacking united states citizens and endangering our national
security. secondly, the way we announced the withdrawal risks abandoning onslaughtto military ad potentially the threat of genocide. i think the kurds have a long history of standing with america against our enemies. of risking their lives to stand with america against their enemies. if the united states sits back while turkey attempts to slaughter the kurds, i think that would be nothing short of disgraceful. i want to ask if we know right now, since this announcement was made, how many isis fighters have been released or are at jeopardy of being released.
>> a relatively small number of beenl detainees have released. aboute mainly worried adult females married to isis fighters. the number is small. >> can you quantify relatively small? >> there are many accounts at there. of isis fighters? >> i can think of where five supposedly fled. under these circumstances, we don't have the same eyes on them we normally did. detainees are in .eopardy if things go south that is one of the key -- >> how many isis detainees? >> about 10,000.
>> do we know how many kurds have been killed since the onslaught? >> we don't have direct numbers because communications are not all that great. >> the main injuries or deaths deaths?mark -- >> killed and wounded. >> as i understand it, the cease-fire ceases in nine minutes. >> expired two hours ago. what happens under the agreement a substate organization -- we call it a pause. at the end of that pause, if both sides agreed that everything that was agreed has
been accomplished, the positives into a halt. sanctions.t our that is the plan. decision wasis announced, i was traveling in asia. i was repeatedly traveling amongst our allies. i faced the question in taiwan. i faced it in india. if america won't stand with the stand withshould we them? how to answer our friends and allies? >> it gets back to the consultations. i was consulted by president trump after what to do -- about what to do after this happened. i was one of the ones to put together the plan to impose these very harsh sanctions on
turkey immediately. secondly, we talk about a green light. degree might the action by the u.s. senate and house of representatives to impose even stronger sanctions. >> my time has expired. what confidence can we have that america will not abandon the kurds who have stood with us repeatedly at great peril to themselves? used dramatic diplomatic, political and economic tools that are normally the right tools to reverse this decision. as we look at the cease-fire, i think we have done a pretty good job of bringing the conflict of this attack to a halt. >> thank you. >> i want to raise a question of nuclear weapons with you in the
context of turkey. we know from public segment tween the presidents that there peasants --en the 15,000nts, there are people that are part of the native defense. president erdogan said he cannot accept turkey's lack of nuclear weapons. my question to you given this profound admission that he stated, did vice president pence raise that issue with erdogan in his conversations last thursday? >> i have no information to that effect in terms of the specifics of the vice presidential capitation -- conversation with erdogan. we have seen him speak with
respect to nuclear weapons. i would understand -- underscore that turkey has a copy has of safeguards agreement. .t accepted an obligation >> given his conduct over the last few weeks, i think we should consider that all of those documents are no longer relevant in terms of how he will be operating. at any top u.s. level officials theconversations with turkish government since he made that statement to procure nuclear weapons? >> i know of no such conversations at the highest level. i would underscore that neither have we seen activities consistent with those aspirations. this is a political position. >> you are an expert in this region.
do you think the united states onotiating with saudi arabia a nuclear program for saudi arabia could have any impact on turkish ambitions to be able to obtain the nuclear materials needed for a nuclear weapon? what is going on at this particular time in turkey? >> i don't want to try to read into the motivation of the president of turkey. >> i think i will give us an additional reason why we have to be very careful about enrichment capacity.
from my perspective, i think that he is already emboldened, dramatically, erdogan in this direction. to turkey only weeks after everyone made his nuclear go public. we just walk away from the defense of the border in syria. he openly undercut our other proliferation sanction. he says he wants to have his own treasury secretary. all of this is pointing in a very bad and dangerous direction . i think the president is setting the stage for an even bigger line.m coming down the if i could turn to the 50 nuclear weapons we have stored
inside turkey, i think we were making a nato deployment if we wereday, -- making a nato deployment decision today, we would up with those in turkey. have we talked about a removal of those weapons from turkey? in aspectfully, i am not position to talk about this. appropriately be redirected to the department of defense. >> i think in each instance consulted, howot you handled each of the situations without having i wish that with each administration that they have listened to your advice at the beginning. to set outalways try
to be where you are going to be forced to wind up anyway. that is why we have career diplomats to explain to administrations the messes they are creating. >> we have to play the ball as it lies. do you believe the threat of congressional sanctions help to the negotiations? negotiation -- the effect on the turkish negotiating team. i just want to echo to turkey that i would like a good relationship with your country but we can't have it this way. >> we believe we are on a path to turning it around. >> turning it around would include a resolution between
turkey and the kurds that is sustainable. do you agree? >> over the longer term, that would be unnecessary. it is not with the kurds, it is with this element of the kurdish population. >> the way i envisioned this is turkey's legitimate security concerns about ypg armed elements have to be addressed. we have to have a demilitarized zone. do you agree? >> we think the way we addressed it in august is a very good way. >> in august, we had a plan. the heavily armed forces along the turkish borders were a nonstarter for turkey. i also told our friends in turkey that the ypg along with others, we can't abandon his people.
the goal is to have an international force that we all trust. to police the safe zone. >> get up and help us. i don't like what president trump did but it has been frustrating for months to try to get hundreds of troops, not thousands to take a little pressure up us and ended his fight between turkey and the ypg. number two, do you agree to put this back together? we have to continue the operations against isis with the kurds? >> with the sdf, absolutely. >> if we do not continue to partner on the ground with the sdf forces, isis is for sure coming back. i would say it would be easier if we are on the ground.
highly unlikely that without ground components, but this way, graham components working with sdf has worked in the past. do you agree? >> absolutely. >> it would be high risk to abandon that strategy? .> if that is your only goal >> we need to control there. do you agree? >> i do. >> do you agree we should not allow the southern oilfields to be taken over by them in syria? toi agree it is important ensure stability and security as a prerequisite for our other goes in syria. >> do you think it is important strategically for the united states to maintain the all-time-- the base?
pusher button. let's go over it from the top. what we need to turn this around is to have a buffer zone between turkey and the kurds policed by people we all trust. be one solution i support. >> we want to make sure that isis does not come back. we had a successful partnership with the sts. how do you turn this around? you make adjustments. i am asking the administration to adjust. i understand what you're trying to accomplish to address -- reduce our footprint but i believe you are on the right path. we will continue to support your efforts.
behind,ave the kurds but having anybody help us in the future to fight isis. this is the most important decision the president will make anytime soon. i stand ready to help him. i think we are on the right track. i will not the demise a solution that is not real. we are playing with people's lives. we need to have a real solution. thank you both for what you have done. >> what forces do we rely on for the brain -- the liberation? u.s.at was assisted by special forces. >> they lost a lot of people. the vision for why they were fighting was because they hope thatve an autonomous area
might give them some sense of ability to govern themselves. motive was to destroy isis because they had almost been destroyed by isis themselves back in 2014. i talked to many of their political representatives who have ideas of an autonomous area in northeast syria. the political process we're working on on another channel. >> there was a widely circulated .ision that would be that self governed autonomous area. they were fighting for a vision of the future. you just had a discussion with
senator graham about reversing this decision. now, that whole triangle that is northeast of the euphrates river, it would have been yellow for kurdish control on a map. occupied essentially by syrian governmental forces, russians and turks. .raqis are fleeing the kurds are fleeing to the east. division of an autonomous zone is crushed. is that not a fair thing to say? >> i think it is too early to outcomeat the political of what is happening in the northeast or anywhere else. what is happening in the northwest of it but.
>> the facts on the ground have changed dramatically. i don't see how this decision gets reversed. triangle northis of euphrates river. do you think that is a real potential outcome? is that a conversation to say that maybe, somehow everything is not lost in terms of what was? population is an important population in syria. it has a future. autonomously self governed area? >> that is a possibility we see next door. i want to emphasize that this vision was never the american vision.
it has been consistent in both administrations. we did not get involved in what the political future would be. we were trying to find through the u.n. resolution a political solution in which they would have a role like all other syrian citizens. >> let's move on. i think there was a lot of implicit support for supporting theyurds in the vision were carrying. you said you were not consulted by the president in terms of the impact of a with rural. not on the impact of the syrian government coming into the space. not on the impact of rush and influence. you were not consulted. you said you felt you were well represented through pompeo.
are you saying in the two or three days that submit this decision, you were fully briefed on a precipitous withdrawal? onwe briefed the secretary the applications of that after the december 2018 decision. that led to a partial reversal of that decision with the presidential commitment to a reasonable force in northeast area. there was an iteration. >> that was in december. we are not in december. whether the president turned to you, did he turned to pompeo? were you indirectly briefing the president during that week preceding this decision on october 6 to greenlight the turkish invasion?
beginning when the president took his first decision in the to reverse the withdrawal. one of the most active discussions in this administration -- >> i am asking about that week before. that is not what you did months before. we probably collectively understand what he was told months before. plus pompeo as caught offguard you have to ask him, senator. i with to get an update and make sure i represent the impact. >> i know secretary pompeo
deployed all of these concerns about the future of the isis campaign detainees and all of that. this was something that was at theed all the time highest levels. >> the thing i would find interesting is if you have been -- i will state the question, i will have to defer to the committee. if you had been called and said the president wants you to come brief m, he wants to get our troops out of syria. do you feel you could have laid out a plan that did not result in this advancement of the interest of iran and syria and russia and isis that would have gotten our troops out of syria? >> i would have tried. >> i want to thank you both for being here. job.sador did an admirable
your thoughts on the way forward hope best -- you expressed that some of this is still salvageable. the turks are pushing down into iraq and into syria with the goal of driving the kurds at. they expect them out of there. they had no cut a deal with the russians. they said we are going to try to help you move the kurds out of this area. the kurds have been pushed into areas they have now had to invite the assad regime to come up. you have the turkish with the russians. you say we will continue to with these fda forces on these issues.
this?are we plugging on we have moved the thousand across the board to iraq. the are saying you can't stay here. you are not allowed to stay here. you're saying we're going to plug-in and work with them on the anti-isis campaign. i just don't know where we will plug-in. there? join them down you answer senator graham by saying the ideal outcome would those that zone to we trust. russianstrolled by the who i don't think we should trust. they had a good deal. it was in place, everyone was complying and they said it was not enough. we don't have that. how do we reverse the buffer zone? more importantly, where do we plug-in?
this is why one has to be hopeful in this complex situation. we have american leadership on the ground. over much of the northeast, the sdf with our support, it is still in operation. the turkish offensive has been halted since the 17. voluntarily withdrew from that area. it is now out of that area. by and large, most of the forces are still impacted. agreement i have been reading all afternoon between the turks and the russians. agreements, iese
have a fairly good layman's acquaintance with these things. i just know that it will stop the turks from moving forward. whether the russians will ever live up to their commitment, that is very vague. in order for this to be feasible methods to get the ypg's out, this should work. right now, the situation is frozen. the ypg as a military force is still largely intact. we are there and reviewing our options about what we will do in terms of withdrawal. >> i am confused by that answer. i thought we were withdrawing although military presence in that part of syria.
you are saying that as of this moment, there are areas in syria controlled by the ypg in which u.s. diplomats and military forces are alongside them. they are not located with the assad regime. >> he described at least half of northeast syria tonight if not more. is a situation that is sustainable given the presidential order that we remove the remaining military elements? >> sustainable is something i don't think we would commit to at this time. that is different. the notion that there would be any element left behind. this was contrary to what we able to relieve. >> we have withdrawn from all of
northeast syria, not from out on. altan. we are reviewing how we are going to continue to maintain a relationship with the sdf, how we will continue to maintain the fight against isis along the euphrates and how we are going to contribute and semi-to the stability of that region. that has just been torn asunder by the turks going in. we have not completed that review yet. it is ongoing. >> thank you for being here. i have a lot of questions. i have a couple of things i want to die -- dive a little bit more into. i believe this is a serious national security challenge. it has been called a troubled
marriage. bilateral relations between the u.s. and turkey. this puts the nato alliance at risk. they have greatly impacted our national security. what are the best tools and levers for us to demonstrate our concern. to ensure that there is a change in behavior? >> i agree with just about everything you said about how difficult and complex and challenging the u.s. turkey relationship is. this is an important relationship for the united states but it is far from an easy relationship. just to zero and on one of the particular issues that you highlighted, the decision to proceed with acquiring the s4
missile system from russia, this is something we opposed consistently, firmly at the highest levels. over ourated with that objections and paid a price for that. they paid a price by being removed from the f-35 program. there are immediate costs and consequences for turkey on that decision. the additional issue of possible cuts the sanctions, that is an ongoing deliberative process. there is a high level of dialogue that we have with turkey about the relationship that covers the waterfront issues. that includes the relationship with russia and the decision to move ahead with the as/400. it includes turkey's neighborhood, iran, it includes drilling off the coast of
cyprus. that is something that turkey has engaged in against the of the united states. it includes a range of issues. it also includes the trajectory of turkish democracy. the media environment, the rule of law. thismind the turks that includes democratic values. this is a difficult relationship but it is an important one. we will have to work through this problem set. >> i have lived in turkey for nine years. i'm personally furious at this military move. particularly after we had an agreement with them that we were living up to buy a large in august.
i will say this, turkey is not iran. it is not in the terms of its population and its public philosophy. it is in many respects, a country with shared values. it currently has a government -- i don't follow that closely but it is violating many of those values but it is still a democratic system. it is a country that has done a great deal in support of our objectives. including helping us react to the invasion in 2008. the radar that protects all of nato against iranian missiles, very critical. it is a mixed bag.
we have some very serious problems with this government. the syrian democratic forces have been securing about 10,000 isis detainees across 30 different detention facilities --syria with the turkeys with turkey's invasion of northern syria. there have been press reports that they are deliberately releasing isis detainees from prisons in northeastern syria. could you talk a little bit about it? the accuracy of what the press is reporting? >> it would be highly unlikely. on itsmore isis attacks soil than any other country other than iraq and syria. >> thank you. i am the longest-serving
member of the committee on either side of the aisle at this point in time. oft has given me the benefit listening to my colleagues on many issues over a timeframe. this administration obamad was decided by the administration, the outrage would be deafening. i have the greatest respect for you ambassador jeffries. one can try to put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig. call capitulation of victory but it is still capitulation. that is what i feel happened here. you made a statement earlier about being a diplomat. --fact, it is miller
military force that got them what they want. buy theent ahead and agreement, iby the have been given the associate , they got everything they wanted. here we are in august. we made an agreement. that agreement was working well. they violated it. afterwards of the democratic forces to stand down from there, their defenses. they got them to stand down. then we had an agreement that was working perfectly well. they violated that agreement by coming in and going ahead and
using military force. military force that at the end of the day, i'm concerned about the press reports that has bombs landing near our troops. even though they knew their location. againstruly been spent elements of where our troops were. day, turkeyf the gets a 20 mile wide swath through a good part of what was the ancestral homes of the kurds in syria. and they get the sanctions lifted from them. not that i think the sanctions were the greatest once. the stock market of the turkey went up after the sanctions were announced. they got everything. how at theerstand end of the day, this is in any way about the united states.
i never said we were there to defend the kurds but we were there to defeat isis. we were in a far worse position. i think your written testimony is more appealing than even the questions we had back and forth. you talk about national security remaining theyria enduring defeat of isis, al qaeda and the affiliates, the reduction and expulsion of iranian influence and the resolution of the syrian civil and in line with you and security resolution. thoseit fair to say that strategic objections have been made far more difficult as a result of the decisions and where we are at today?
we opposedthe reason turkey coming in. we said if you come in, you're going to scramble the entire security system in the northeast. >> they did what they wanted and we retreated. >> at think your statement tells it all. you say turkey launched this operation despite our objections, undermining this and threatening the security of the area. turkey's military actions have precipitated a humanitarian crisis and set conditions for possible war crimes. that does not help our strategic objectives. i think that is a fair statement. no doubt that turkey's coming
and has threatened all three of our objectives in syria. >> you said in response to questions by senator markey that it is an important relationship for the united states. my question is if turkey sees .he united states as important they do everything contrary to what a good relationship with us would mean. one final set of questions. you are familiar, mr. secretary with the legislation passed and signed into law by president from august of 2017. >> yes, senator. mandatory have a session? >> yes.
>> did it take the system for -- diding this summer >> turkey take the system for delivery this summer? >> yes. >> that system is currently under review as part of a deliberative process. i can't get ahead of any decision by the united states. >> i did not say whether the secretary would sanction them. purchase of an s 400 is not a significant transaction. >> that has not been made as a matter of law. >> what a message we're sending the world. undermines the actions of the congress of the united states. it is an overwhelming and e sent to thet presidential legislation to push back on russia.
98-2. if you start opening that door, you will have undermined the very essence of what the law has meant and you would be this writer. i am one of the authors of it. i understand what i meant and -- it is not a question of whether that is a significant transaction. that is a significant transaction. if the purchase of the escrow hundred is not significant military transaction from a country purchasing it from russia, nothing is. understand that answer. at some point you will have to come up with an answer. departmentstate legal view that such a transaction is not a significant transaction under the law, we need to hear it. the congress of the united states needs to hear it. you can't hide under the guise
of this. you have been thinking about this for some time. you need to give us an answer. we need to force an answer if you refuse to give it to us. we need to send a message about what is a significant transaction. if the purchase of the as/400 is not significant, senator reed, the ranking member, who all op-ed to to a public try to get turkey to go in a different direction, we made it very clear that all of our views on a bipartisan basis, that is a significant transaction. the administration's of view that it is different, we need to know. >> the secretary has made clear that he has committed to this. always countstion
credibility as a deterrent to russia arms sales around the world. those deliberations are ongoing. >> that is incredible. if you want to maintain the credibility of caps off -- cafsa, you have to find that this is a significant transaction. if not, you have neutered the law. thank you to both of our witnesses for testifying today. we appreciate your patience with us. we know that you have been long-suffering but we appreciate it. the record will remain open until thursday evening for written questions for the record. responditnesses would to those questions, they will be made part of the record.
>> a look at live coverage of the c-span network for wednesday. at 10:00 a.m., the house will work on a bill on election interference. on c-span2, the senate returns and works on 2020 federal spending legislation, including funding for transportation and housing. on c-span3, co-founder mark zuckerberg testifies on his company's impact on the financial services industry and the housing sector. that is at 10:00 a.m.. and james jeffrey, the special representative on syria testifies before the house regarding u.s. troop withdrawal from syria.
c-span's washington journal, live, every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up on wednesday morning, a preview of facebook ceo mark zuckerberg's testimony on capitol hill with our reporter. that michael moore joins us to discuss the impeachment and campaign 2020. including his endorsement of bernie sanders. and tim burchett talks about the trump impeachment inquiry and u.s. relations with syria. be sure to watch c-span's washington journal, live at 7:00 eastern. join the discussion. --aaron mehta is at our desk. first, things are obviously moving fast when it comes to syria and the