Trump sends Pence and Pompeo to pressure a defiant Erdogan

Kurdish fighters battled to defend a key Syrian border town from Turkish-backed forces in a flare-up of violence Tuesday as US President Donald Trump sent his vice president and top diplomat to Ankara to demand a ceasefire.

Russia, already the key foreign power in Syria, stepped into the void caused by Trump’s withdrawal of US troops by deploying patrols to prevent clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces.

Trump, facing mounting criticism in Washington on Syria as well as an unrelated impeachment inquiry, has hit back at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, slapping sanctions on three cabinet officials and raising tariffs on the country’s steel.

Vice President Mike Pence said he would meet with Erdogan on Thursday and “voice the United States’ commitment to reach an immediate ceasefire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement”, his office said in a statement.

He reiterated that Trump will pursue “punishing economic sanctions” until a resolution is reached.

In a sign of US determination, Pence will lead a high-powered team that includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump said.

But Erdogan was defiant ahead of the visit.

“They tell us ‘to declare a ceasefire’. We can never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan told journalists on a flight back from Azerbaijan, in comments published by the Hurriyet daily.