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tv   Hearing on U.S. Withdrawal from Syria  CSPAN  October 22, 2019 2:34pm-5:40pm EDT

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united states senate committee on foreign relations will come to order. we have an interesting hearing today, as evidenced by all of our interest and participation here today. i'd like to say good afternoon to all and thank you to our guests who are going to i think be very enlightening after the discussions i've had with them earlier today. of course, the situation we have is quite fluid. i'm sure they can help us get up
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to date, which is difficult, as fast as this situation is moving. this hearing today is intended to assess the geopolitical and humanitarian impact of turkey's cross-border attack on u.s. interests in the middle east, determined how best to salvage u.s. interests moving forward and evaluate the state of u.s./turkey relations. before we talk about the current state of affairs in syria, it's important to recall the path that brought us here. to begin, 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-long conflict, syria's brutal dictator, ai bar shal ai said, with the support of russia and iran, has relentlessly bombed cities and towns across syria, resulting in over 500,000 deaths and leaving over 10 million people displaced. we are all aware that many confirmed uses of chemical weapons by the russia-backed assad regime, adding to the
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humanitarian suffering in violations of international law. the syrian, russian, and iranian regimes now hope to build upon the successful defeat of the defl see cleared islamic caliphate. these are the circumstances we find ourselves in today. beginning in 2011, the islamic state took full advantage in the chaos in syria to gather its strength. the group's ascendence was accompanied with a nearly unprecedented level of cruelty. by 2014, isis gathered enough strength to spill over the syrian border into iraq. isis captured huge swaths of territory and declared the formation of its so-called caliphate. the world watched as the yazidis faced slaughter. iraqi soldiers were marched to mass graves. women and children were sold into slavery. execution videos made by isis were packaged as recruitment materials. after several false starts, the
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united states led a syrian, kurd, and arab fighting force in a 91-nation coalition, intent on defeating the caliphate. with a limited number of boots on the ground, u.s. and coalition air power, coupled with an effective kurd-based air force forced the territorial defeat of isis. it's come at great cost. nearly 11,000 syrian kurds have been reported killed and many more wounded. that brings us to the present day. turkey's relationship with the region's kurdish population has been fraught for centuries, particularly over the last three decades. u.s. support for syrian kurdish fighters in the war against isis created massive tensions in the u.s./turkey relationship. turkey views the syrian-kurds as an extension of the insurgency group known as the kurdistan workers party, or the pkk, which has fought in insurgency against ankara for the last three
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decades. the u.s. has worked for months to help address turkey's security concerns. let me be clear. turkey's misguided invasion into northern syria now threatens to unravel all the progress the u.s. and our partners have fought so hard to achieve. isis is defeated, but elements remain that could reconstitute and pose a threat to u.s. national security interests, and those of our allies in the region. our counterterrorism concerns emanating from syria and the surrounding region remain very real, continuing regional conflict and instability, coupled with opportunities to establish sanctuary space, creates conditions for isis revival with a potential to attack the u.s. homeland and our allies. absent continued counterterrorism pressure, isis is likely to return, whether in syria or elsewhere. only through vigilance will we keep ourselves safe. partnership with the kurds will remain an important part of that strategy.
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turkey has assured us they'll continue to battle the islamic state. to say the least, i remain skeptical of turkey's counterterrorism guarantees. we have tread this ground before. we have offered turkey the opportunity to come back isis and its affiliates. turkey has promised to provide forces to combat isis, but turkey has failed to follow through with those forces. worse, sometimes the forces in question had questionable ties to jihadist or al qaeda linked groups. the fact of the matter is turkey's primary concern is its decades' old struggle against pkk. in addition to sacrificing our gains against isis, turkey's actions threaten further instakt and chaos in a country that's already suffered years of destruction and devastation. reports of syrian and russian troops occupying abandoned u.s. positions underscores that tur keys' actions have opened the door to assad and his russian
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and iranian backers. additionally, the humanitarian toll of this incursion has been swift and severe. the u.s. withdrawal has created an opportunity to be exploited by russia. indeed, on the day the u.s. brokered cease-fire is set to expire, president erdogan met with president putin to discuss the future of syria today. u.n. security council resolution 2254, the framework for a political resolution in syria, a cease-fire, formation of a constitutional committee and free elections remains very much in doubt with putin's high level of involvement. we should very strongly discourage unhelpful paralleled talks. isis detainees and foreign terrorist fighters, many of them at makeshift prisons, add to the complexity. we've already seen reports of breakouts at the camp, further release or escape of battle-hardened terrorists, particularly high-value
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individuals, will only serve as a strategic boon to isis. finally, there's the broader issue of u.s./turkish relations. prior to the syrian invasion, turkey's increasingly autocratic posture and dangerous tilt towards moscow was a cause for serious concern. that remains a concern today. turkey has imprisoned americans and u.s. consulate employees, has jailed more journalists than anywhere else in the world. it also recently purchased and accepted delivery of the russian s-400 missile defense system despite the loud protests of turkey's closest allies. now we're forced to confront a turkey that acts blatantly against u.s. national security sbrepss and brutally attacks u.s. regional partners over our moes strenuous objections. while i appreciate efforts to reduce the violence through negotiations, if turkey maintains its aggressive path, it must bear a cost for undermining u.s. security interests. that's precisely why ranking
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member menendez and i have written legislation to sanction, block arm sales, and impose costs on turkey if it continues its ill-advised syria invasion. i took a little liberty by saying the ranking member and i. there were many members of this committee who had input into this. i want to compliment the staffs, both the majority and the minority, for working so hard on a bill that we think is a good bill. it is still a work in progress. we have a number of other fronts that have been opened up with other bills being offered. in fact, some members of this committee have part nerd on some of those bills. i would urge when these kinds of things happen that we try as best we can to act as a committee. we are much stronger when we are together, and i think that a bill that comes out of this committee with a real push from the vast majority of the committee, it would be very helpful. and we hope to be able to move the bill that we are working on and continue to work on today in
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the very near future. ambassador jeffrey, das palmer, i would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this current crisis and its future implications. i appreciate your time, and thank you for your attendance here today. i hope you can provide some guidance on how the administration intends to tackle this difficult situation and provide some ideas for a constructive path for the united states congress to take moving forward. with that, senator menendez. >> thank you, mr. chairman. first of all, let me thank you for holding a hearing as quickly as this one. i think that the urgency of now, as it relates to syria and our interests, cry out for a hearing like this, and i appreciate and applaud your quick response to it. i want to thank ambassador jeffrey and deputy secretary palmer for coming before the committee.
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ambassador, i understand you came out of retirement for this post. i'm not going to suggest you need a mental check. and i applaud your commitment to serving our country. i think it's incredibly important. ambassador jeffrey, we understand that you and ambassador satterfield and our core of military leaders on the ground spent the past months' work of diplomacy, balancing an increasingly belligerent nato ally. however, your recent efforts, in my view, were hamstrung from the outset since december of last year when president trump made abundantly clear that he was more swayed by president erdogan's manipulative threats and persuasions than advice from his own diplomatic and military corps. indeed, the president's decisions over the past month are yet another betrayal of u.s. foreign policy to russia.
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a betrayal of our kurdish partners who fought and died alongside us in the battle against isis, who are now throwing in their lot with the russian and iranian-backed syrian government. the regime that barrel bombed and gassed its own citizens and uses isis as a political tool. a betrayal of our ally, israel, as the current chaos further 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. everyone in the region is recalibrating their relationship with the united states. as thousands of kurds who we once called partners pelt u.s. troops with rocks and potatoes, president erdogan held a press conference with president putin today in sochi, where he said we will continue to make big steps
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with my dear friend mr. putin to provide the long-lasting peace and stability to syria. the betrayal is fully in view in 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 in hostilities expires as we sit here, it's clear 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. if there was any doubt before, erdogan's intentions are clear. an ethnic cleansing mission in northeastern syria at the expene expense of broader regional
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stability, including the fight against isis 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 with allies in the alliance as well as dedication to democratic principles and practice. in recent years, turkey's behavior has belied nearly every single one of those principles. purchasing the s-400 missile defense system from russia and developing increasingly close relationships with kremlin. i know that i hear the majority leader and even some of my colleagues suggest we have to worry about not pushing turkey into russia's arms. they're there. they bought the s-400. they could have bought the u.s. patriot missile system, interoperable as a nato ally. they were meeting with russia and iran about the future of syria.
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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 is not north korea, iran, or russia. they're in turkey. and erdogan's aggression in the region extends to the exclusive economic zone of cyprus, where turkish military ships bully international energy companies conducting legitimate exploration activities. and over the weekend, "the new york times" reported on turkey's interest to pursue nuclear weapons. this is not the behavior of a constructive democratic actor or nato ally. but i'm hoping we can use today's hearing to get a full assessment of how the united states is now pursuing our interests on the ground in syria. the president's effective abandonment of american interests in syria, opening the
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door for turkey's incursion into northeastern 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. he simply moved most of the troops from syria into iraq, where reports today say that 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, when presidents do not, the congress has stepped in to put america's interests first. i was pleased to join senators young, murphy, and gardner from this committee in introducing a resolution condemning turkey's
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actions, calling on the president to reconsider his decision, and for a comprehensive strategy against isis. moreover, as the chairman has mentioned, we have worked on legislation actions but calling on the administration to submit a comprehensive review of our counterisis strategy. humanitarian and stabilization assistance for kurds in syria in areas libertied from a isis and accountability for crimes against humanity as well as sanctions in russia as well. so, mr. chairman, i look forward to this hearing. and i look forward to working with you to move this bill to the committee and to the floor. i think the fierce urgency of now continues to dictate that we move expeditiously. >> thank you, senator menendez i couldn't agree more and also we do need to work together because it obvious that a once strong ally in turkey and fellow member
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of nato has gone in a bad direction and wound up in a bad place. i think it's best to work together to do this and there is good signs there is involvement from every member of in committee. ambassador jeffers -- jeffery, thank you so much for joining us today. the honor lk james f jeffery, a special representative for syria engagement and special envoy to the global coalition to daeft isis a senior american diplomat with variety of experience having served as deputy national security adviser from 2007 to 0u. as well as the united states ambassador to turkey from 2008 to 2010. ambassador, i think you're about as well qualified as any person to sit in that seat and help us wrestle with a very difficult situation a and a situation much different than what you found it when you were dealing with turkey. so with that, the floor ises yours. please flnlt us. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. chairman, mr. ranking
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member, members of in committee it's an honor to be here. i have submitted a written statement for the record. what i would like to do is summarize our views in the next few minutes and then answer questions. as you have symbioticed, the focus of today's hearing is a tragic situation in northeast syria and including the u.s. turkish agreement to bring about a cease fire on the 17th of october and the just announced a few hours ago russian turkish agreement for a cease fire in other parts of the 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 the underlying situation. specificrily the most horrific destabilizing and dangerous conflict of the 21st century as the senator just mentioned the syria haves a war raging since
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2011. devil's brew mixes together the three champion of. assad, organizably worse than saddam or chaffedy. ideology state of the march on iran and islamic terror to al news ray. exploited by russia. thus all actions in syria are driven by our core object he was defeating islamic terror, restoring syria to a civilized state, and ensuring the removal of all iranian commanded forces from that country. some argue these object he was are too ambitious. but frankly we have no other choice than to pursue them in order to lead the world out of the crisis. now in dealing with today's situation in northeast syria turkey is obviously the immediate heavy. it acted unwisely and dangerously as you have indicated despite as i'm ready
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to despite warning after warning and incentive after incentive from this administration to choose ditchly including a package of economic and security commitments and a visit to washington. as a result, millions of vulnerable syrians are syria democrat forces sdf forces in the israel and nol israel, jordan and iraq and the gulf and in the end turkey itself through this intervention are all made less secure and isis made more emboldened. but in digging ou of the mess let us remember with turkey's actions we face another all too common regional phenomenon with the nato state. a major neighbor to a conflict feels that it's existential security is not advanced by american policies and acts against them. as we in the administration you in greens congressen a partnered allies around the world strive
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to overcome the crisis it's critical to keep in view the larger issues and objectives. thank you very much. >> thank you very much, ambassador. with that, we'll hear from mr. matthew palmer mr. palmer is a deputy assistant secretary, bureau of european and eurasian affairs, a member of the seen year foreign service and overseas u.s. policy with the trikt to western balancesens and eejen. serby. the u.s. mission and u.n. and national security councils. as i understand it you're going to forgo opening statement and the both ever are you going to take questions from the dsh from the committee. am i correct on that. >> that's correct, mr. chairman, thank you. >> thank you. >> so with that, first of all, i want to say mr. jeffery, i appreciate your focused on trying to get in a better place than where we are. there's been a lot of debate about what was a precipitating
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factor. would you grow with me with assad having amassed 30,000 troops on the northern border and the heat having been turned up as much as it had in recent weeks and months that this invasion was inevitable into syria? >> it was a very real possibility, mr. chairman. it was not inevitable. first of all, we told turkey what exactly would happen. they would not get very far in in offensive and they have not gotten very far. as you see they are in cease fire agreements with us and the russians. we told them exactly how this would play out. it made sense to scramble, scramble the entire situation in northeast syria in order to do something they couldn't attain which is to put together under their own control a 32 kilometer-deep, 440 kilometer-wide, security zone as they called it in northeast
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syria somebody else's country. rather we offered again the incentives my colleague and i can go into more detail on in terms of important bilateral relationship as well as the security zone that we set up and got turkish agreement to in august to allow with the agreement of the sdf, our partners in the northeast we referred to them as kurds but it's a kurdish arabic group one portion of the kurds supporting it but we call it the sdf i think that's the best term with the sdf in agreement to allow patrolling and turkish and american joints units down to 30 kilometers and the withdrawal of the ypg, the more if you will wkk other thanned part of the sdf from the immediate area of the berd. that was a deal not only on the table we were executing until turkey decided in october to go for broke with this offensive despite as i said warnings not to do this up to president trump. >> thank you, do you -- what is
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your prognosis as far as tempting to put the genie back in the bottle and back up to what was offered to them in the first place? >> i have to caution everybody, that i've been wrong at least as much as i've been right in predicting on syria. i think we're in a better place than we were a week ago. we have an agreement with turkey that's about to actually as i'm speaking the 120 hours that we agreed on thursday for the ypg forces to withdraw from an area that was controlled by turkey. that was a trm we used. where the turkish forces had been as of last thursday, essentially the central 130 kilometers of this 440-kilometer zone in the north of syria between the euphrates and iraq. the ypg was to withdraw during that period. the turkish military was to maintain what was called a pause. at the end of that that is now
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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 the 120 hours not to put on any new sapgss on turkey under the executive order on sanctions on syria that we distributed on the 14th of october. and with this commitment if it is met by the turks we will then lift the sanctions we did put on three turkish ministers and two two turkish ministries. meanwhile taking a page from erdogan. putin and erdogan got together in sochi to come one a similar cease fire in many regards for the rest of northeast syria accepts the turk got less the ability to are patrol with the russians 10 kilometers deepest and a particularly not
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believable russian commandment to get the ypg out of that area. turkish has not gained much from in but in the process has scrambled the entire northeast yunt undercut efforts against isis and brought in the syria and isis forces in a way that's tragic for everybody voefd. >> senator menendez. >> ambassador did you advise the administration to greenlight in essence the turkey intentions desires to invade in syria? >> i certainly did for the, senator. but nobody in the administration greenlighted the -- the trurkish invasion. >> in december when the president made the remarks that, well, you know, indicated he wanted to get out, which caused the senate to cast a vote to try to dissuade him as well as colleagues particularly on the republican side to speak to the president, wasn't that already the beginning of the end and then the -- then the decision?
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were you consulted about the removal of troops as precipitously as it they were. >> the president then in february modified his decision and agreed that we would keep a residual force on. further furthermore in coast when the president said he would withdraw ground troops from the area he said he would maintain them in the south of syria and that we would maintain air support over the. >> but that's all changed. he is talking about taking everybody out. now maybe leaving a couple hundred about oil fields. my question is, were you consulted about the withdrawal of troops as was recently done? >> i personally was not consulted before. >> you were not let canned even though you are the special envoy in the context of syria. let me ask you this. isn't it fair tories that the sdf has been a reliable partner in the fight against isis. >> absolutely senator. >> isn't it fair to say that we
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can't achieve an enduring defeat of isis through air power alone without ground forces. >> we need ground forces. they do not necessarily have to be american, senator. >> that's right. and this is -- this is exactly the point. it was the kurds who were largely our ground forces. it's the kurds that lost about 11 to 13,000 of their people. it's the kurds that were detaining over 10,000 isis fierts and families for us. it doesn't have to be us. but when you betray the person who- dsh the the entity you were fighting on the battlefield with and leave them when you are finished using them say you're on your own, it's a hell of a way to send a global message that in fact don't fight for the united states because when they're finished with you they'll let you die on the battlefield. isn't it true that u.s. troops would be at risk of significantly higher casualties in fighting a resurgeant isis
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without sdf partner or similar partner. >> sabtly, senator. >> instant it true the sdf now sought political and military progression fro bashar al assad the iranian backed gov. >> they've come to agreement in certain areas to coordinate. that's true. >> isn't it true that we are -- that we have a greater risk of creating a vacuum where iran can ultimately position itself to build the long sought land bridge to the mediterranean, a threat to our ally the state of israel. >> at this moment with we are looking at military, political and economic options to avoid that under the new circumstance. >> i don't know our options when we get out, we don't have any guarantee on air space we can use air space for any missions whether anti-isis or defending israel. i don't know what guarantees we have. isn't it fair to say that iran
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is not an agent of russia -- russia is not telling iran thank you for g got fighting get out now. >> you're right i were and russia have divergent interests in syria. unfortunately both allied against our interests and supporting assad. >> now what is our counter -- in the midst of facing according to the department of defense inspector general that there are still 14,000 to 18,000 isis fighters, despite the conversation consistently about ending the caliphate and these other 10,000 that are detained which if the kurds have to just defend themselves they're not going to be busy detaining isis fighters. that's potentially a 30,000 hardened force if they reconfigure together. >> sure. >> what is our plan to defeat them and to end that threat? >> one, they -- and it's -- for the record, it's the sdf which is about 507% arab.
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it's the arab-cudd kurdish coalition that's maintaining control of all of the detainees, the 10,000 you mentioned that's an accurate figure. the 14,000 to 18,000 are scattered in three areas. as you look at it, iraq particularly the is sunny arab yarts nars, the northeast and the rest of the syria more or less under the control of syrian government or on the turks in the the northwest. in the assad controlled areas of syria isis is running amok without much control. we do some airstrikes into there but it's not an area we can have a whole lot of action on. other than to monitor it and as i said strike when we have a good target. in the northeast that's the area we are focused on we continue to work with the sdf. that's our plan. the sdf leader. commander mass loum has committed he wants to continue working with us that's what we are okay being looking at the
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option urgently for in in iraq we're working with the iraqi government and coalition of some 20 or 30 nations from around the world to keep isis under control there. that's -- >> now, ambassador, i have a deep, deep respect for your service. and you're delta hand you're dealt with and that's what you do as a career person. but let me just say you know, they're running amok under the assad control area. we still have the expectation the sdf as they fit for their lives is going to be fitting isis for us. that's an incredible expectation. and in iraq the forces that we are transferring out of syria we're told by the iraqis they're not going to be able to stay. i do not see a strategy or a plan that will make sure that the homemade is secure against a potential of a resurgence of
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isis a threat to the national interests and security of the united states. i hope to see it. but i don't see it as of now. which is why we have asked- dsh we think it's only fair that all members get a briefing from the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the cia director about the dynamics of this. and we can't seem to get a briefing. something is wrong when we have such a major national security interest and members of the united states senate both democrats and republicans cannot get a hearing. i hope you send the message back to the administration, that's not acceptable. >> 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. and 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.
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the senate foreign relations committee hearing this afternoon from the trump administration's special envoy to syria as they focus on the u.s. troop withdrawal from syria and turkey's military action in the region. the committee taking break now, as committee members head over to the senate chamber for votes. right now, voting on u.s. representative to the u.n. and international organizations. you can see as the votes are tallied on our companion network cspan2. as this hearing resumes, we will continue with live coverage here on cspan3.
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while we wait for members of the senate foreign relations committee to return for this hearing on u.s. troop withdrawal from syria, i'll shoal you now a discussion from this morning's washington journal on the role of u.s. troops in the middle east. >> and that is at our desk deputy and senior correspondent for defense news. aaron med of. first things moving fast when if comes to syria and iraq this morning. can you bring we're bring us up to speed as the deployment picture for u.s. troops. >> i'll i'll do my best. as we finish the segment something else might change as of yesterday u.s. troops moved largely out of syria. secretary of defense mark he is per said a small group is staying in syria despite
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president trump's statement all troops are coming out. now a group probably three hundred to 500 to stay at a garrisonen a to protect a oil field in syria. everyone else is getting out. we saw shocking of u.s. troops pelted with rotted fruit and vegetables leaving kurdistan. >> one of the pictures making the front page of the "wall street journal" this morning. showing viewers the video as well. >> this is where the u.s. is wildly popular. you look at okay is there perhaps lasting damage with the alliesen a partners clearly in kurdistan this is an issue. today, the the plan per secretary petitions per to move to iraq. to do anti-isis operations out of there if needed. today the iraqi says we're happy to have u.s. troops transit through. we welcome the friends. they they can't stay they are they are getting out. that seems to have thrown another wrench into the pentagon
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plan to handle the situation. >> when secretary of defenses per was talking about anti-isis operations, how was he seeing that being conducted? what was the greenlight for u.s. troops to go back into syria and then come back across the border? how much of that has been thought out. >> that's one of the big questions the pentagon is sorting out right now. the -- they have -- the pentagon officials told us they plan to continue imt sl operations, flying drones over northern syria. the idea of keep an eye on the isis camps still active and protected by the sdf, the syrian democratic forces and the idea to make sure let's keep an eye on these things. the fl thought following on which is the pentagon not confirmed but sources hinted at is that may include the right to do airstrikes off of drones. kind of targeted counterterrorism programs potentially also raids into syria with special operations as we have seen other parts of the world deal with terrorism as a one-on-one thing but it seems
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like the idea of urs i say u.s. forces on the ground. and hold territory against isis that's done now. >> if it turns out we can't do that from western iraq, where else could we do that mission from? >> there is a can you tell me of pgs ohs ironically one of the pgs ohs, turkey. air base has been home to a lot of the air power operations in the region over the last couple of decades. that's a turkish air force base the u.s. operates from. the other parts, potentially jordan has been mentioned. you know potentially saudi arabia would welcome more u.s. forces as they cherly want forces there. they feel comfortable with that. more focused on iron nan isis can you operate out of interest. let eye of u.s. bases you could operate if things we are talking about small air troobs strikes, endrone strikes there are pgs ohs but the issue that the pentagon has talked about in the past for years now and is now coming to the foreis if he leave right now, don't support the sdf we can't hold the territory. if you don't hold the territory
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isis will boil back up, take control of something morph to something different. but essentially regain ground. >> before we leave iraq, doept we have currently thousands of troops stationed in iraq? the government saying as of this morning that those troops have to go. >> no just the extra troops transiting out of syria. >> what are the current troops there doing. >> security operations. helping trains members of the iraqi military and a base for other operations in the region but making sure iraq remains stable. >> talk with aaron meta with a good pepper to talk to with your questions about what's happening on the ground in the syria, turkey in the region with the military forces. we have a line for active and retired members of the military set ai 202748, 8003 if is the number. other phone inls ramens 202-74, 8001.
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middemocrats. 202748, 8,000. >> we do no russian put and president erdogan are set to meet today. what are you looking for from that that meeting. >> obviously putin worked hard to increase the republics with turkey the last couple years. people have forgotten but a turkish jet shot down a russian fighter. we thought it was about to kick something off. putin was careful. saying we apologize. there may have been confusion about where people were. we understand these things happen. work hard to build the relationship. since then turkey agreed to buy and receive the s-40 oh a russian built air defense system concerning to nato. the u.s. kicked turkey out of the f-35 fighter program. the turkey has been a part of that program for years. the u.s. says you can't have the air defense system gathering
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gathering information offer the sensor plugged into the u.s. jet. that's set turkey more towards put sfwloon why couldn't u.s. provide that missile system. >> the u.s. offered it. but turkey decided it didn't meet the requirements or strengths that come with arms sale, rules of how to use it. information sharing, technologying about whether the trucks get the technology transfer to do their own stuff with it. u.s. arms sale this is a whole other topic come with more strings than russian on chinese usually that works out for u.s. as the u.s. equipment is better. as china and russian kwmt improves this is a concern. >> what are the strings with a russian weapon weapon system. >> not many if you buy refreshen it's essentially have russian contractors and work with russia. it's how though they try to increase foreign policy. the other thing to wind chill with putin and erdogan. at 3:00 p.m. eastern when the cease fire is supposed to end.
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so it's going to be interesting at this meeting happening before the cease fire in turkey between turkey and the sdf supposed to end. some would say the cease fire never went into effect. but there is a lot of moving parts today. >> i'll let you chat with callers. paul, evansville, indiana. up first, independent go ahead. >> good morning to you both. i would like to know, when the president spoke about getting people out of there, was he -- did -- he talked about 50 and there was -- i think 50 people. and then they turned it over to turkey and all the other countries. i mean, they think india -- or united states you save every country, and you know, they're mad about trump raising the price because we were paying to be in these countries. to protect these people. >> so terms of the 50 people, what that referred to is there
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was 50 special operators who were close to the border with turkey when the operation began early last week. en a the one of the first things the u.s. did was to pull those 50 guys out. because they were concerned in the first wave of attack couldn't coordinate with turkey. there was a potential they can be at risk. since then the u.s. coordinated with turkey. given them according to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff literally grid coordinates where the u.s. troops with. now at the same time there was an incident last week where turkey fired over several u.s. troops. shells came close. there was concern about that as the u.s. responded to turkey and said cut it out. turkey did stop firing. and we saw a strong statement from the pepgt that u.s. forces are allowed to defend themselves. which again sometimes people forget this because of the weird relation was turkey the last few years. turkey is a nato ally. one of the closest military partners for the u.s. on the
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glean. deaf practice with nature ho and done nato operations. the idea that u.s. might need to defend themselves against a ally a mind boggling. >> the troops moving in and out or of syria marin be in western iraq with are these special operations. >> primarily largely specially operations. >> rocky on the line for the active and retired members of military from texas go ahead. >> good morning, thank you for taking my call. i wondering how how long it takes to train afers. we've been 18 years. been in afghanistan 19 years. we've got the same generals running the show that ran vietnam, a bunch of losers, they are still sitting there drawing the big paycheck and doing fog for this country. how long do we need to to be there, zblier aaron. >> in syria only there a couple of years. it's a fair point, afghanistan and iraq most of the last two decades. that's a concern you do hear
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from a lot of people. is what's let point here? are we an enduring mission forever, essentially providing the security because when we tried to build you have security forces they haven't worked or is the goal to build train and build the active military and get out? we saw in 2007 appear the rise of ice a notable swegs iraqingy military met up with isis and got routed. that was a wakeup call for people in washington that followed the draw out obama pushed through drawing out troops. u.s. responded by surging troops and started over appear rebuild the iraqi military. people say this time the military is better. more cohesive trained better. but there is definitely concern among people watching the region if the u.s. left and i iraq, afghanistan, stability would melt away. >> do you want to talk about troop drawdowns in afghanistan and where we are. >> this is interesting. obviously president trump is mentioned a couple of times over
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the course campaign and since being president he understand why we are in achievingants we should get out. with that he has increased troop numbers in the first year. based on reporting by secretary mattis at the time that there needed troop increase in august of '17 but the idea was that was a surge and eventually get out. s it there's been reports recentlily i believe the mc news reported yesterday that the pentagon is reupping plans for afghanistan withdrawal just in case because the reality is the president is dictating right now it seems with little influence from the pentagon in terms of big military policy in terms of we are getting out. so the pentagon was caught flat footed by the syria wrul this to a time. and trying fallout to be kwaut as flat footed in the future. >> to that line for active retired this is dave out of breksville, ohio. good morning. >> well, top of the morning to you, sir. i have three inconvenient facts here that i'd like to basically
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state. first of all, is this is the second time in my lifetime that we have abandoned an ally. the first was in my where, vietnam. we abandoned the moltenyarts, the second is the kurds. we are condoning the second time turkey is going to commit genocide. the first was in right during the first world war with the armenians now they do it with the kurds. and the third inconvenient fact is it seems that this decision has been a very -- how can i state it -- a very un -- >> dave you still with us? >> i guess we aren't going to hear the third point you can take up. >> i'm going to ahead dave and guess it's been uncoordinated i think it's a fair assess. you won't get much argument from that the pentagon or state
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department. dler clearly a decision was made by president trump and everybody figures how to execute it in the way that does least damage. in terms of allies i go back to the photo from the paper today and the videos coming out where kurds in a region that's very friendly to the u.s. that welcomed the u.s. when they arrived years ago throwing fruit and garbage holding up signs say we love the american people but president trump betrayed us. that's not a trust you'll get back easily in the future in if a policy changes and you kwo back to the kurds and trust them and work with them to build things up. that's going to be an issue in the future if we go back in there. >> let's talk about saudi arabia for a minute. and as you do and explain our troop deployment there. answer this question from holley who texted from arkansas. does the pentagon fully agree with the president's decision of pawning our troops to saudi arabia? >> i don't think there is a lot of opposition to the pentagon necessary to troop deployments to saudi arabia pch i think there is a sense of okay, saudi
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arabia was attacked. they are a military partner. whether you think the u.s. should be defending a saudi oil field or not is a political question as opposed to strategic. strategically we saw it's an important part of the global economy. american companies took a hit when aramco the saudi company was attacked. i think there is a fair case that u.s. presence in the recently helps. that said there is a lot of questions about the type of attack launched. was primarily with small drones and missiles. the systems the u.s. puts in aren't defending these are against defending against big missiles these are not the weapons used against the saudi process. so the question is is this more if for show than anybody else. >> deona is in gagtering eras rk, democrat. >> i'm the same generation as our president. good morning. what came to my mind is i sure would like to hear what he said on the call to erdogan, you
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know, this man does not do anything unless it has something to do with himself. also, everything that i have heard about the kurds from iraq to syria, i mean, at one point i said i'll go fight with them, you know, they have really -- they sound like really good people. i know they have supposedly they're terrorist or something. but i don't believe that. and also, how many troops did we -- i have read something on msn.com that we have in the world 400,000 troops deployed in different areas, africa, all over. so why in the world would this man withdraw a few troops, a small amount of troops from an area where they were really making a difference and weren't in it -- in intense danger? i don't understand.
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>> aaron do you want to start with the worldwide troop deployments. >> certainly -- there is a lot of troops deployed around the world a at any given time. it's a big issue for the pink np deploy to dwell how much time in the field versus at home resting and training. the pentagon has been trying to increase time in the u.s. for troops because they feel there's been burnout, seeing people leave and retention is an issue. in terms of kurds it's interesting. threw the u.s. has the kurds in many kplskts been a reliable ally. they've been a well-trained force. a useful military partner and ally. at the same time, the turks do have a legitimate groups with groups of the kurds. there is a graup the pkk that has been doing terrorist attacks in turkey. largely from syrian cuddish areas. turkey is a -- again a country that is allowed to defend itself. they feel a terrorist group is attacking they want to go in. the u.s. tries to split the
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difference and say yes a fact shup a a terrorist group and don't support them. but the faction we support. >> turkey says we have the same faxes they'll g get u.s. equipment and they can switch back the patch and use against us. it's a complicated situation. in america we tend to think of the kurds as good guys. there are guys in the region. our guys peterson. as with everything in the region everything is more complicated than we like to think. >> what's the difference between an ally and partnership. >> allies we have a military -- or a legal obligation to defend. they're similarly defending us. partner is a nation we have a good relationship with work with them appear to be doing military teeft no legal obligation to defend them. >> the question of the caller is a about u.s. troops deployed around the world. this is from "the new york times" you miept be checking out it peg it at about 200,000 u.s. soldiers abroad. some 78,000 of those the largest number in japan and south korea. we are talking about afghanistan
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somewhere between 12,013,000 troops. and it's at this point just hundreds in syria that story by thomas gibbens n. ff and eric smith. winford in was per, wyoming, republican, good morning. >> good morning. >> go ahead you're on with aaron meta. >> i am not a politician really. but i have lot of knowledge of what's going on in syria. but i have complete trust in our president, that he -- if he doesn't know about something he would counsel with the generals and the people over there that do know. and even though he is a businessman, we need a businessman in this country. look how we are in debt. we need to figure out a way to get out of debt.
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i feel that president trump has the people's interest at heart. and i feel like that the republicans if they're turning against him, shame on them. they ought to be behind president trump. >> that's winford in welcome. to winford'sed point of who the president is talking to who his counsel is on this, the troop deployment and now what's happening in hierk is happening under a new secretary of defense mark he is pepper a joint chief of staff staff mark millie. how haus the newisness to the position how is that compacting what they are doing here. >> it's been interesting. he is per came in he had been army secretary for couple years. came in as secretary of defense. millie has been there the last couple weeks. president trump nounsed him he rememberier than usually nounsed for the rules. this is the first crisis either man had to deal with.
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what we see is a little bit of catching up situation. it's been clear from people in the pentagon that. >> walk and chew gum at the same time which we can occasionally do and sometimes can't. >> we have another vote going on but instead of breaking what we will do is rotate the chair to everybody can break. but in the meantime. senator romney the floor is yours. >> appreciate very much the testimony of those here today. ambassador jeffery, your lifetime of service to our diplomatic efforts as well as 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 as well. i'm asking a few questions briefly and get it to something in substance. but maybe yes or no if possible. were you on the phone call with president erdogan with our president. >> i was not but i was thoroughly briefed on it, senator. >> were you consulted before the edition squas o was made to
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withdraw our troops. >> i was consulteden oh 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. >> but were you advised about the decision to withdraw all of our troops following that erdogan call? >> that specific decision i was not in advance. >> all right. do you know when the kurds were informed of our decision to were you our troops? >> immediately there after, senator. >> thank you. do you have a sense of how many kurds have been killed since we withdrew our troops? >> again, it's a mix. in fact the area we are talking about the trucks went into is largely arab area. and i do it myself i use a shorthand kurds but we're talking about the sdf and the ypg, mixed groups. but in that area, it is probably in the low hundreds of -- of killed in the fighting up to the
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cease fire on the thursday. >> and does isis remain a terrorist threat? >> absolutely. >> yeah. as i read your written testimony, i was impressed that it's extraordinary in a number of ways. in that as you described on the third page of your written testimony at the bottom you say the united states at every level that is underlined our resolute opposition to this plan, the turkish plan as a threat to sdf partnering, the fight against isis elements and overall security in syria. turning the page, the next appraise down. erdogan, however said that turkey would soon move forward with the long planned operation in northern syria. next appraise. turkey launched the operation despite objections undermining the deisis campaign. risking and endangering dplas be civilian as destroying critical civilian infrastructure and threatening security of erdogan
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president trump he wasn't going
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to stick with it and he was coming in. >> but we withdrew our proops precipitously. you're saying that's unrelated to the fact that erdogan was going to come in militarily? >> absolutely. we had two outposts of about 12 men people on that whole area, but their purpose was basically to obviously if there was any firing across the border. they were not a defense screen or anything else. the troops that the president has decided to pull back and have been pulled back, they're well south and west of where the turks came in, it's that there was a danger that as the turks as you are looking at the map would come in and as possibly russian and syrian troops because we knew that the sdf would turn to them came in from the west, our troops would be caught in the middle and their retreat path would be, so it was a prudent decision taken by military leaders to get those troops out of the way, sir. >> if one assumes that it was a good idea for us to withdraw
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troops from syria, and i'm not one of those, but even if one were to assume that and even if one like myself believes it's a good thing that we are apparently in a ceasefire setting and hopefully we will have a permanent one, would it not be prefer annual and desirable for us to have negotiated a posture with turkey and our kurdish allies such that we didn't have the casualties which have resulted from turkey coming in in a heavy way and bombing and killing our allies which has given us a terrible black eye around the world and has led to unnecessary casualties, why could this not have been negotiated. >> again, we negotiated extensively with the turks including the security zone mechanism we had with them, 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
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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. >> i would note, mr. chairman, that our president told president erdogan we would be pulling out our troops we did so and they attacked within a matter of hours. you say those are unrelated, it would people seem to me that there was a relationship. mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator romney. [ inaudible ].
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>> thank you, mr. chairman. 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? >> i am. >> and are you familiar with the report that was issued under that law? >> generally, senator. >> you might want to tell us about it because i'm not familiar with it. i'm not sure i received it. >> 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 -- >> absolutely. and the law required the report within 90 days, i don't believe that was complied with. you're talking about sending the
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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? >> 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. >> are you familiar with the reports that have been issued by united nations and other groups about expected war trials have been committed by the turkish forces in their invasion into northern syria? >> we have steen some preliminary concerns. we haven't seen any detailed reports. the detailed reports is on the as sad 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
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we are looking into those as i speak. >> defense secretary mark esper said last week that turkey appears to be committing war crimes. do you disagree with that? >> we would say that the turkish supported serial opposition forces under general turkish command in at least one instance did carry out a war strike and we have reached out to turkey to dough manned an explanation. >> congress has acted on this making it clear never again should mean never again. the only think that's going to -- it's not just swept under the rug as any type of resolution of a conflict. do you agree with that? >> i certainly do, whether they are foes of the united states or at lies of us. >> 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
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level of war crimes that united states will seek an international forum to hold those responsible accountable? >> within our constitutional requirements to carry out foreign policy this would be a very high priority. >> 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. >> 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. >> 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 could be married out and i
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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 the climbs 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. >> we will do our best to adhere to our legal requirements and also the spirit of what you said, senator. >> 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. erdogan to move forward into northern syria and that that added to the national security concerns of america which you've already testified to in regards to facilitating russia, iran and
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the assad regime? >> no, i do not think that contributed to this very tragic decision by the turkish government. >> 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 sr. syria. >> they wouldn't have engaged american troops first of all because it was understood that neither side would ever engage the other. >> so would it 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? >> we had the troops there, the withdrawal did not take place or really start until well after the -- essentially most withdrawals of american troops -- >> i understand that. 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
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northern syria? that's not believable. >> 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 is i 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. >> you don't think that turkey was holding back an aggression against northern syria because of the u.s. presence in that region? >> no, i don't think that at all. >> 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 never would be happened. >> 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
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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. >> 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? >> i carry out the instructions of the president. >> you said it didn't have any effect. do you agree with his policy or not? >> i agree that presidents have to make that decision not people in the bureaucracy such as me. >> for the record you did not answer my question. >> thank you, senator. senator 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
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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? >> it is, senator. >> is that still our policy? >> it is, senator. >> 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 slow into iraq potentially but also the potential that 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? >> i can't determine how much thought specifically went into that. what i do know is that we were
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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 there -- >> 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 is what we're going to do to make sure the sdf can still do these things? >> exactly. what we realized was we had to
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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 oversaul strategy, that's why we did the joint security mechanism with the turks in august -- >> but none of those plans are in effect any longer. >> no but now we have a ceasefire that has replaced them. >> that ceasefire expires in a couple minutes. i don't know what the time is over there. >> 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
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halt of operations so it is a more permanent ceasefire i doings, why he. >> you're saying you believe if they withdraw from these areas that the kurdish forces will still be able to house these isis killers? >> this is when 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 we will be two,ing with the sdf, with us, with our coalition partners. >> 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. >> the kurds never fought -- i'm sorry -- the sdf never fought isis because we wanted them to, they fought isis because it was an extension threat to them to deal with isis and they still feel that way. >> let me ask you about the withdrawal of iranian forces.
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how do we do that now? how do we prevent iran from sizes 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? >> it's part of an overall political settlement to this conflict in syria. first of all -- >> what seat do we have at that table? we are not there anymore. >> we are still there, senator. >> in the southern part. >> 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
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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 at the top of the list is inviting iranian forces to go home. >> 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? >> he has said publicly repeatedly including in new york at the u.n. that his goal here today my assessment is he is not going to get that or anything close to that. >> but that's what he said is his goal. >> absolutely. >> senator shaheen. >> thank you. ambassador jeffrey, the joint statement that you negotiated with the turks doesn't
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specifically define the parameters of the safe zone. can you clarify the areas where turkish troops can operate according to the agreement? >> 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 which was 2,200, 10:00 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
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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 the turkish forces with minor changes have not moved from that area. so it has worked, but it basically is essentially when we did the security mechanism in august we established a central block in northeast syria along the turkish border -- >> 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 said that the ypg has withdrawn from that zone. is it true that sdf forces have withdrawn from the zone. >> that was the decision of the commander, why he. >> he says he has withdrawn. >> in writing, why he. >> 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
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from that safe zone. >> one, we have a written letter to the vice president from ma zum kobani saying that, two, on the ground we believe that's the case, yeah, 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. >> no i understand. that joint statement also said that turkey and the united states are committed to deisis and daesh activities in northeast syria including detention on facilities. what did the turks commit to in terms of securing isis detention facilities and camps in northeast syria. >> we began talks with them in january 2018 after the president announced the withdrawal in december and the turks showed some interest and some staff
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work concerns detention facilities in that up to 30 kilometer deep zone. there are very few detention facilities in the area where the turks are so at the moment the question is pretty moot. >> but they did, in fact, shell two prisons that the syrian democratic forces had to flee from to escape the shelling, is that correct, and detainees were able to escape from those two facilities. >> i will check. i think there was a displaced persons camp for people who are basically associated with isis so they weren't second nick clee detainees, we will check, but that is true, a few people did escape. >> so how exactly will turkey prevent an isis resurgence and, again, what have they committed to do to continue to fight isis? >> in the area where turkey is and in fact in the entire area
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along the turkish border 30 kilometers keep there's very 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 the syrian area and i'm sure if isis showed up turkey would take it on as well because it has been repeatedly attacked by isis inside turkey. we will toward nate with them as we have in the fast with them on information concerning isis and operations that they do or we do. we're used to doing that. again, isis is not a major issue in the -- in that part of the northeast at present. >> it's not a major issue because with the sdf and our support we have driven them out of syria. >> exactly. >> but does that suggest that turkey is not going to move into
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manbich. >> turkey is not going to move into manbich according to the agreement we have with the russians. syrian forces and some russian advisers are in manbich right now and judging from this agreement this he have to intention of letting turkey back in -- 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? >> 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.
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i don't think iran is particularly empowered by this. >> 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? >> 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. >> we may not have, but we are not there anymore and russia and iran is there and so is assad. >> 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 diplomate. 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,
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we use diplomatic, we use political, with he use economic. >> i understand that, but when we pulled out the troops we had earlier pulled out our diplomatic personnel, our us aid personnel, we had stopped -- this administration had stopped the stabilization funding that congress appropriated last year so that it didn't go into syria and so the other tools that we have to support a solution in syria have also been taken away. thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator johnson. >> mr. 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
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displaced within syria. so you have half the population out of their homes. it's a mess. by december 2013 they already found 100,000 syrians dead in the conflict. june of 2014 isis moves in and takes over mosul. aleppo finally falls in jewel of 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 p a third of syrian territory, correct? >> mainly, as i said, because they had an existential threat from isis but in the process they took over about a third of syria. >> 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
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were pretty much in control of two-thirds of syria? >> 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
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anywhere and we have no difficulty mobilizing international sentiment in the u.n. or anyplace else against assad until blocked of course by russia. >> 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 titers don't regain the battlefield, correct? >> both turkey and sdf have fought against isis and in certain areas particularly in the case of urk itty effectively 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. >> where do the 3.6 million refugees from syria residing in turkey now, where do they come from? >> 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
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political ring of the ypg, the military force. but most came from the arab areas. the aleppo area in particular all the way down to the jordanian border, they fled across into turkey. >> so the sdf and the kurds are they primarily protecting the region of syria they always occupied or have they moved into sunni areas that the sunnis if they ever could return from refugee status into syria you will have a dispute in terms of who owns what. >> the ypg which was the kurdish militia we joined up with that has the 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
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of territory which is not uncommon. >> but is that going to be a festering problem when we hopefully at some point in time stabilize syria, now you have 5.5 million refugees trying to return from syria. will some be basically squatting in their homes? >> that was on our top ten list of festering problems the idea that we had a largely kurdish led force over a pretty significant arab population but it wasn't one of our top five festering problems. >> one of the things i was concerned about are we going to maintain a no fly zone, according to your testimony we're willing to do that. >> we are doing that at the moment. we still control as they say in military terminology the air space at least over where our forces are which is much of the northeast. how the thinking is in the pentagon and what we're going to do in the days ahead i'm not fully a fred of, but when they have sifted out their options they will share them with us. >> i would certainly encourage the administration to maintain
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that no fly zone, that would be one of the ways we could prevent ethnic cleansing and further slaughter. >> senator coons. >> i'd like to thank chairman rich and ranking member menendez for convening this important hearing. i'd like to thank both of you for your service. no one wants to see american troops continuing to serve and fight in the middle east and southwest asia inn deficitsly, but president trump's abrupt premature and ill considered withdraw and utter lack of a strategy fore 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'm concerned, if i can, initially, in asking you about isis. one of my core concerns is not only have we ceded territory and control to assassinate add supports forward by russia to
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iranian regulars who may have breathed more life into isis. i was struck 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 situates. on all these of those vectors i think this decision makes us worse off. let me first ask about isis. do we know how many hardened isis fighters escaped detention? >> we don't have numbers, but it was very few so far, that to change. >> is few dozens or hundreds. >> would say dozens at this point. >> there were press reports that put it in the hundreds. do we have any idea how those escaped isis fighters will be tracked, accounted for and re p recaptur recaptured. >> at the moment we don't. >> how secure are the -- how many isis fighters do you believe are still in detention n
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a detention facility that is managed either by kurdish fighters or otherwise? >> essentially the numbers we had before, senator, about 10,000. >> about 10,000. how secure are those isis fighters? >> as long as the situation remains relatively stable and we think we have returned it to something -- >> would you describe this as a stable situation? >> since thursday when we got a ceasefire, yes. >> so what confidence do you have that those 10,000 isis fighters are secure and are being appropriately monitored even as the sdf is in full retreat, the united states is largely retreating and a combination of turkish, russia and syrian forces are flooding into an ill defined area. >> once again throughout the vast majority of northeast syria sdf forces are in control of the terrain and detention centers
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that are located. most of them below 32 kilometers east/west highway. there may be detention facilities in that area and the russians are claiming that they will work, facilitate trying to get the ypg elements out. we will have to see how that goes on. for the moment these detention facilities are being maintained, we have commitments by the sdf and have learned to have faith in their commitments. >> should the sdf have faith in our commitments? >> we gave them a commitment we would do anything in our power to forestall turkish incursion into northeast syria. we did not succeed in that obviously. what we did succeed in doing was quickly bringing it to a halt by the negotiations with he did and the ceasefire negotiated. >> were the press reports today that kurdish civilian are pelting our departing troops with rocks and food suggest we have won over their enduring
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trust? >> i would have to see whether -- i mean, the troops were withdrawing because this is our priority from that area which is far to the west. whether those were kurdish children or arab children and whether they are the regime is also there, we would have to look into whose idea that was. that's the only place i have ever seen stones and fruit thrown at our soldiers anywhere in the northeast and, again, a z that is an area that the assad regime has forces in, we need to look into that in more da i will. >> ambassador, there's fairly broad reporting that american troops who served alongside our kurdish partners that military leaders, that intelligence community leaders and that the leaders of the syrian democratic forces the kurds themselves have all agreed that this was a tragic mistake, that this was a betrayal of the trust they put in us. i will close by asking what you see as the future of nato's role in turkey and the united
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states/turkish relationship. in a previous exchange with another senator the way i heard you sat briez it was essentially our president got rolled by an aggressive president erdogan who said i have my troops on the border, i'm ready to go and they simply went ahead and did that. this is supposed to be our nato ally. what do you see as the future of our alliance with turkey. >> we need sof serious conversations with turky over this. the president didn't get rolled per se. as soon as the turks came in the president enacted a -- >> speedy withdrawal. >> pardon? >> he enacted a prompt and speedy withdraw. >> 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 table various, if you will, incentives for turkey to behave better and set into motion the diplomacy that led quickly to a ceasefire. >> given what i think is the unreliable, undisciplined and
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inappropriate actions by our president in abandoning our kurdish allies i'm grateful that the majority -- the chairman and the 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 tweet or phone call. thank you, ambassador. >> senator portman. >> thank you, chairman. first, thank you for your service. jim vef rjeffrey, you've been a stalwart on foreign policy issues, including trying to figure out the most complex and volatile part of the world. it's not easy. it's a messy situation. we had a small number of troops there, mostly special operators who were keeping the peace and it wasn't perfect, it never is in that part of the world but we were avoiding some of the problems we've seen and that
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tlug not just the iranian-backed forces and the syrian coming in but the russians coming in. that video of the russian journalist the day after walking through our base haunts me. and what we've done in regard to the kurds. to me this is about the kurds but it's also about our allies and potential allies in the future and finally the displacement of more refugees. i guess finally isis. you think dozens of isis fighters have been released, i've heard larger numbers but the point is we have found ourselves 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 and so on has been disrupted.
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i won't ask you to agree or disagree with me on that assessment. you've been an able reporter on what you think is happening, you avoided expressing your own personal views but those are mine. on the issue of what does this do to us going forward i think about iraq and i think about the role that the krg has played in supporting our efforts there. ever since '91 we've relied on the kurds, haven't we? what's this going to do with regard to our relationship to the kurds more broadly, particularly in crack and to those arab and kurd communities in that part of iraq and in the parts of syria or north even syria. what will our withdraw and actions here do to affect our relationship with those forces and can we continue to work with them? >> that may be a good analogy, senator. as you know our partners for
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many years the puk and the kdp kurdish parties in northern iraq are decided to have an independence referendum without properly consulting us or getting our -- getting our views. well, they got our views. we thought this was a big mistake in the fall of 2017 when this happened the iraqi army moved into an area, a mixed area where the kurdish regional government had extended its sway after saddam had fallen in the kirkuk area and took place the oil rich purchase orders of kirkuk. that was a huge blow to the kurds, they felt we had abandoned them, our argument was we never promised you a military guarantee for that area, rather we tried to work out and i was involved in that as well as people with me today trying to do oil deals and other things between the kurds in the north and the central government in
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baghdad, again, with he did not succeed in stopping a conflict from occurring. we did succeed in bringing that conflict to a halt and bringing the two sides together. so i would say that's an example of how not using military force but using diplomacy and economic tools we can keep a relationship with the kurds. >> i hope you're right. i can't imagine there is not an impact here on the kurds more broadly and other allies around the world and future allies who we would want to turn to. you've used the word incentives a lot today to talk about what was on the table previously and i don't know if you feel that you're able to talk about those discussions with turkey, but i had always hoped that part of the way we could resolve the problems with regard to turkey and the kurds was through commercial activity specifically trade and their interest in a trade agreement. i had within to believe based on some reporting, in fact, from
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folks at the state department that that happens a propped. what happened? why did the turks not take us up on our offer to expand trade. why didn't those incentives work and how do we possibly work better going forward? is that you're referring to when you say incentives. >> absolutely. in a nutshell this was an attractive package. the issue isn't with the kurds. 15 to 20% of the turkish population is kurdish and in some elections a high percentage of them actually vote for president -- formerly prime minister erdogan's party, it's all about what the turks see is a terrorist organization, the pkk and offshoot of that in syria, the ypg which became for very good reasons that i agree with at the time and agree with today your ally against isis.
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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 seen as a latent threat on turkey's border even though there's only been one incident very recent. that's the month i made in my oral testimony that major states in a region neighboring an area where we have forces have their own vote in any conflict and 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. in fact, they had been in yeegss and discussions with them up until 2015? ankara. we wanted to see if they could get back to that level because we did joint patrolling with the turks inside syria with the ypg
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pulling back they were basically the silent third partner. we had a deal going. in october president erdogan or the turkish government in a sense decided we're not going to go with this anymore, we don't care about the incentives, we want to go in and deal with this problem. we are looking into why they decided to do that, he think it was a big mays i can and they are not more secure today, we are not more secure today, no he be is more secure today because of that action. >> and none of the incentives were implemented. >> none of the -- >> in other words, no upside. >> they are in play. that we will have to see how our relations with turkey continue on. i think we had the fell row who has the -- i have the enviable job of syria, he has the enviable job of turkey. >> just to add to that, senator, that the turkish government, president erdogan is interested in expanding the trade
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relationship with the united states. we have had talks with the turks about enhancing building on the trade relationship, targeting $100 billion a year in annual trade, that's a very ambitious target, but there were conversations in play about how it is we would approach that target. at the end of the day as we would look at it turkey although it was very interested in this package also felt what was going on in northeast syria represented a significant security thread and made a threat that was a security decision rather than an economic personal decision. we look to the opportunity to restore balance to the relationship so we can go back to conversations about the mechanisms we can strengthen the commercial relationship. >> i'd like to think that's on the table to try to resolve this issue. thank you. >> senator udall. >> thank you, mr. chairman and thank you both for working hard to get us this hearing. appreciate your service both of you. i want to be up front.
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i had major concerns with our syrian deployment when it began under the prior administration and i opposed the decision to recall a the kurds and other groups in syria, for one this deployment in action was not 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 caused obvious risks of entangling us in a situation where there would never be a good way to get out. the turkish concerns with kurdish militants using syria to launch terrorist attacks against them was not going to go away so the problem we face today was foreseeable. what was not foreseeable was the strange and sudden way this withdrawal was carried out.
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our troops had to withdraw very quickly, placing them at increased risk to enemy or inadvertent friendly fire as they departed. now the russians are broadcasting propaganda from our former basis. the president had a year to work out the details this have withdraw but instead his hasting order put our troops at risk and strained both the relationship with our partners in the region and our ally turkey. instead of a well executed end of operations in syria we are now 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's appropriate to remember that president erdogan attended the ribbon cutting for trump tower's project in istanbul in 2015. the trump family reportedly received several million dollars per year in licensing fees for these two buildings but we do
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not know for sure because the president refuses to reveal his financial information. president erdogan was threatened the president's financial interests in istanbul when president trump was calling for a ban on muslim integration into america. the "wall street journal" quoted president erdogan has saying and i quote here 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 has an active business interest in turkey at the same time that our nation including you are engaged in very high stake diplomatic engagement and the president of turkey has already threatened that business interest at least once that we know of. >> i'm comfortable with my role working on syria, senator. i will just leave it at that. >> you don't want to answer the question, then?
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>> no, but i do note we have the officer responsible for turkish affairs here. >> mr. palmer, please. >> the issues that you raised, senator, have never been part of any conversation with turkish officials of which i have been a part. >> and has anyone ever discussed the trump organization's business interests in turkey with either one of you. >> not with me, senator, no. >> never. >> ambassador jeffrey, you have written in the past that the united states and turkey need each other and i believe we need to return to a dialogue that addresses the riff that occurred as both countries got pulled into conflict in syria. how do we repair that rift and will sanctions against turkey in your opinion lead to a solution or continue to increase that rift and will sanctions on turkey help or counter russian gs interest in the middle east as well as iranian ones? >> having spent the weekend
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before last night and day with people here with me imposing a set of sanctions on turkey i am not against sanctioning turkey. we sanctioned turkey because of its actions against our better judgment in going into syria two week ago but we do believe that sanctions are a blunt instrument 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 president pence that the potential additional sanctions to be levied almost immediately and in particular the sanctions that were being prepared in congress were a major factor or the achievement of a ceasefire by another name the day after the entire turkish leadership and press comments had said there would be no ceasefire. then there was a ceasefire.
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sanctions as they're being levied if behavior changes as we think we see today have to be lifted. >> mr. palmer, do you have anything to add? >> no, senator. i agree absolutely with ambassador jeffrey, sanctions are an important tool in the arsenal, the more flexible that we can be and the easier it is to put them in place and then remove them, the better it is as a tool for us to use in influencing behavior, the goal of sanctions should be to affect the behavior of the target state. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you foreign your testimony. ambassador jeffrey, do you believe or agree with the statement that the syrian civil war is largely stalemated and in all likelihood assad will continue to be in charge of the syrian government? >> it is still needed but because it is still needed at
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extraordinary human cost and we heard the statistics, half the population has fled him, they're getting no money, it's basically a pile of rubble, i think it's open to question whether assad personally is going to loo he had that country indefinitely. >> i would disagree, i think assad is there to stay barring something ex trord happening. i think assad is there to say. i think one of the things that's going to happen from this, but one of the reasons why we haven't been able to have a peace agreement is our position through the u.n. agreement is fair elections which probably doesn't mean assad wins a fair election. in a way one of our goals has been regime change. if you take the u.n. resolution to be fair elections which aren't going to happen the thing is that now we've disrupted things as we've disrupted things the kurds are talking and fighting alongside of assad. we were never staying forever.
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i think there are parallels to the kurdish area within iraq that could happen within syria but i don't think we are going to be of any use to it if we maintain that regime change needs to come before we get think talks. in some ways it might be a good thing that we are largely bypassed because the russians do have the ability to talk to erdogan and also the ability to talk to assad. if erdogan have been convinced that his border reason controlled by a real government, there hasn't a real government and anybody able to control the territory. as assad, the russians and perhaps the kurds apply to control that territory then it's really a matter of now two people talking, assad and erdogan. so i actually think that the chance for peace actually occurs and has a better chance now than it's ever had but i don't think we will be a part of it and i don't think as long as we will not have a discussion with assad
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because i think assad is going to remain bargain assassination or some internal upheaval within his government i think he does remain. i think not because i want him to, but i don't see our role forward if we are adamant that this u.n. resolution 2254 basically to assad and others means he has to go before we engage assad. is it still our government's position and you as part of our government we don't at that you can to assad and he can be part of no negotiations. >> it's our position that we don't talk to assad, but assad is part of the u.n. negotiations that we support under 2254. having been involved in one or two regime change adventures in my career this is very different. this isn't our idea to overthrow assad. president trump is september on to the ndaa a classified position to congress on 1 march
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of this year laying out our policies and is explicit it isn't to overthrow assad. the idea of free elections is the decision taken by the international community. >> i'm saying it's a possible opening and i think until someone talks to assad there is no opening so the war goes on forever. i think that that's the realism of this, you know, the realism of this is we have to see the world as it is not as we naively paint in black and white and jefferson is going to come riding in on a horse. i know you see the world that way but i think we haven't gotten there in syria to see the world in a realistic way knowing full well there's things we don't like about the authoritarianism of most of the people over there and yet we deal with them on a daily basis.
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i think peace is prevented, i think assad is staying and peace is prevented until someone talks to him. i agree there is disagreements between assad and erdogan and they don't right now trust him, but i think there is the possibility. see, the russians are going to be an influence in this and the russians are becoming players and we have this hysteria this political hysteria that if swin talks to putin that somehow you are a support of his his or somehow you don't love your countries but the israelis talk to the russians. my only advice is to keep an open mind with regard to assad and with regard to negotiation and perhaps it's something that happens without us getting in the way. thank you. >> senator murphy. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. we have such amazing respect for the work that you have done
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throughout your career and in particular the job that you have taken on most recently. that's why i think some of the most stunning testimony we have heard today came in answer to senator menendez's early 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 syrian 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. interest in syria and the future of isis during his presidency. i think it speekts 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.
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in part because he tells me that the word that our soldiers are using as they are moving out of their positioning is betrayal. they've been embedded with the kurds, with the sdp and feel that they have been part of a dee trail of the forces that they have been supporting and fighting alongside. one of their specific clearances is that we convinced the kurds to dismantle some of their defenses along the border with turkey in anticipation of the u.s. and turkey being able to work out joint controls. it left the kurds much more susceptible to the inevitable attack that came. in retrospect do you think that it was a good idea for the united states to press the kurds into dismantling these defenses?
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>> of all the things that i've experienced in this particular portfolio and particularly this subsector of it with the turks and the kurds the things i am most disturbed about is after having agreed to a way forward with us in august turkey to do these joint patrols and the dismantling of fortifications then suddenly inexplicably from my standpoint and many others the turkish leadership decided that they would just march in and do it all themselves. the requirements of the august agreement were for the ypg to dismantle fortifications in the -- what we call the safe zone but essentially the zone we are talking about. the truth is that was the one thing they didn't do a very good job of. perhaps they felt that this was -- they could see what was coming and this was a major bone of convention between us, the turks and the sdf.
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>> i certainly think we can draw issue with the turk's decision to aggregate the agreement we made with them but it would have been an additional decision for us not to sell them out by reducing our forces. this extraordinary measure they took in terms of us remaining, the bulwark between them and the turks. your belief that the president has not green lighted or did not green light the actions by turk turkey. so sunday night the president sent out a press release in which he had said he had gotten off the phone with the president of turkey and they would be moving forward with their long planned pra igs into northern syria. he took the one action that was a pre continue to the turks mounting an offensive which was the removal of our forces and since then he has defend the turkey's actions.
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he said, quote, they've got to keep going at each other. it's artificial to have soldiers walking up and down between the two countries. like two kids in a lot you have to let them fight. the world read that statement on sunday night, it's listened to the president defend the decision of turkey to enter syria, listened to the syria talk as if it's a good thing that the two sides are 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 to come in? the isn't 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 has released -- actually we have released a letter to president erdogan, you can see that the president took very tough language with president
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erdogan on this issue advocated some kind of an agreement or arrangement with the sdf leader, general mazloum, but in addition and i think it's a very important point here, betrayed 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 from the north. they were not. that's not where they were, there were two outposts each of 12 people along that whole area of 140 kilometers and we had told the turks i was involved in telling them that is to obviously whether the kurds are shooting across the border at you or you are shooting across the border at them. that was no a security perimeter of any sort. the forces that we eventually did move were way west of any of this fighting and they were moved, again, dod can explain why, but looking a the it on the map it was clear that pretty
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soon they would have been cut off as the turks came down to the main east/west highway. but i repeat from having followed obsessively turkish including the intelligence that i can't get into here, turkish views on this of all of the things i saw and they are all over the map, senator, i never once saw any turk in a position of responsibility saying, gee, what are we going to do about those u.s. military forces. they knew they did not have an order to defend the -- well -- >> you don't think that our forces -- >> absolutely not. i will cite ash carter sunday on -- i think that was with stephanopoulos when he was asked that specifically and he said -- this is the last administration -- we never told the kurds we would defend them militarily against turkey that means we didn't tell turkey. this was followed up in face the
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nation by general tony thomas who said essentially the same thing to the -- margaret brennan. >> i think our soldiers on the ground were told something different. if ultimately part of the reason for being there wasn't to protect them against the nation on their border seeking to destroy them. >> thank you, mr. chair. and thank you to the witnesses. the hasty trump retreat produced vivid pictures of u.s. troops being belted by stones and rotting vegetables as they walked away from their kurdish battlefield allies and the consequences of the trump retreat are at least the following, one, empowering turkey, iran, russia and the regime of bashar al assad. turkey is a very complicated ally that's now sliding toward
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adversary. iran is an adversary, assad is a pariah and russia is an adversary. the second consequence is likely to lead based on all of the military testimony that i'm heard 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 and we have already seen prisoners escape, the numbers are in some dispute but in the chaos that is to follow the worry is that it would be more. we've abandoned a united states sal lie who fought with us, it's more than abandoning them. when the president says the kurds are no angels why trash them on the way out the door. if you have to do this because turkey is coming across the border then you could just say that. we don't want to face off against the turks, but why trash the kurds and name call them and make them sound like they are not the partner that the united states has been the most successful working with in the
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battle against isis. it's paved the way for ethnic cleansing against the kurds, 176,000 kurds, more than 80,000 of whom are children have been displaced in two weeks in the turkish incursion across the border. finally a consequence of sending a bizarre message of what u.s. priorities r we're pulling troops from the region. we are going to put troops around the oil fields, with he want to protect oil fields from isis but we are not interested in protecting kurds from turkey. we're pulling out of the region but we will put a couple thousand troops in saudi arabia to protect their assets. so is the u.s. troops mercenaries now? is that what kids like my son who as the marines are they are percent naers and will go to whoever pays for them to be there. the question raised by all of these consequences from the
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trump retreat is what would anybody think about partnering with us if there is a tough battle ahead against a nonstate terrorist force or someone else and we go to ask. if isis resurges and we ask the kurds who help us again i think i know what the answer is going to be. ambassador jeffrey you've been blunt and i appreciate it. i was astound the as well but i appreciate your candor about whether you who have been specifically tasked by this administration with the responsibility of helping manage this admittedly very differently and managed the global collision against isis. if you were not consulted with, you were if you were not con resulted with mr. b. this withdraw that speaks volumes about his chaotic and at who can nature. one of the achievements that you, i think, get some credit for in the last few months is
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you convinced britain and france in july to increase their presence in the region to try to help us deal with the isis threat. my understanding is that it wasn't just you who were not consulted with by the administration before this, but britain and fans who three months ago had agreed to some increase in their troop levels in the region and tried to protect against isis. my understanding is they were not consulted with, either. do you have any reason to doubt what i'm saying to you? >> 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. as iraq in 2005 then president bush took decisions concerning iraq where i wasn't consulted, then again in the same which baghdad when i was ambassador under president obama including the withdrawal of u.s. forces he took decisions without consulting me. i will say in my current job i feel that my views through
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secretary pompeo have been brought repeatedly and frequently and i think in many cases effectively to -- >> i mean, i'm just kind of -- professionally are you indifferent to not being consulted about the matter that is in your lifelong expertise to which you've devoted your entire public service career. you've got out of retirement to do difficult job, you're not even asked what you think and that doesn't cause you any concern whatsoever. >> a, had it been the first time it might have, bz as i said that happened repeated will i in senior positions. >> i would hope no matter how long you serve that you would retain enough of a moral compass to have a sense of outlaj about things that are outrageous. look, i will just conclude and say this, if the administration had come to us with this as the plan four months ago here is what i think the solution s we
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want to empower russia, turkey, assad, iran, we want to run the risk of isis reconstituting, we want to walk away from the kurds, make other allies wonder about whether we will be loyal to them, send a mixed message about whether oil is more important than people. if they had come to this committee and said this is what we want to do what do you think the entire committee would have laughed them out of the room. that's what we arrived at by an ad hoc decision. i mind not being consulted with. whether you mind it or not, whether you are so used to it that it seems like it happens, i mind not being consulted w i mind not having an administration come and propose some plan for syria and let us ask questions and maybe make suggestions but we're finding out by tweet as well and that really, really bothers me. mr. chair, i return it to you. >> thank you, senator. senator cruz. >> thank you, mr. chairman. gentlemen, thank you for your testimony. you know, this is a discussion and debate that i think sometimes gives way to
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caricature, gives ways to two different extremes and polls, that there are some of the political world who seem to advocate we should stay in syria forever and attempt to 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 polls, that neither of them are right or accurate and make sense and that 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, taking a i way their so-called caliphate is an extraordinary national security victory for the united states and something for which the trump administration and the brave men and women in our armed services deserve enormous credit for winning that victory. i also agree with the
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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 being said i think the way this decision was executed was precipitous and risked very serious negative consequences. the two that are most problematic in terms of how this decision was executed is, number one, i am concerned there is a substantial possibility of isis returning. there are right now some 15,000 isis fighters who remain in iraq and syria and pulling out without an effective counterterrorism strategy, presence and platform to combat those fighters risks those fighters ultimately attacking united states citizens and endangering our national
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security. secondly, i think the way we announce the withdraw risked abandoning the kurds to military onslaught and potentially even the threat of a genocide. i think the kurds have a long history of standing with america against our enemies, of risking our lives to stand with america against our enemies and were the united states to sit back while turkey attempted to slaughter the kurds, i think that would be nothing short of disgraceful. so given that, ambassador jeffrey, i want to ask initially do we know right now since this announcement was made how many isis fighters have been released or are at jeopardy of being released? >> again, a relatively small
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number appear to have escaped. of actual detainees as opposed to people that we worry about who are internally displaced persons, mainly adult females that were married to isis fighters, so the the number is relatively small. we are always worried. >> can you quantify relatively small? >> dozens at this point. there are various accounts out there, but there's propaganda from the turkish side and from the other side. >> dozens of isis fighters? >> dozens of isis fight e perhaps. i can think of one incident where five supposedly fled and there have been a couple of other rumors we're looking into. the problem is under these circumstances we don't have the same eyes on it as we normally did, but all isis -- i want to be clear, all isis detainees are in jeopardy, if things go south in syria of somehow escaping and overwhelming their guys? >> how many are we talking about? >> about 10,000.
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>> 10,000. let me ask you about the kurd. . do we know how many kurds have been killed since turkey began the onslaught? >> i think mondays of casualties, and there is not much communications -- >> by casualties, do you mean injured or death? >> killed and wounded. as i understand it the cease-fire expires in nine minutes under the terms. what happens in nine minutes? >> it expired two hours ago, but what happens under the agreement is first of all, we can't call it a cease-fire for turkish veesry the other partner and a sub state organization and in their eyes a terrorist one. so we call it a pause and at the end of that pause, if both sides, the turks and the ypg agree that everything that was
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agreed has been accomplished then it goes into a halt of turkish forces and then we lift our sanctions when the turks went in two weeks ago. so that's the plan. >> so, ambassador, when this decision was announced i was traveling in asia and was in japan and taiwan, india and hong kong and repeatedly traveling amongst the allies. in taiwan i faced the question and in india, if america won't stand with the kurds and if we won't keep our word for the kurds should we, the friends and allies trust that they'll stand with us? how should we answer that? >> i've heard that, too. it gets back to the consultations. i was consulted by president trump on what to do after this happened, and i was one of the people who put together the plan supported fully by president trump to impose these very harsh
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sanctions on turkey immediately. secondly, to -- if we talk about a green light, to green light the action by the u.s. senate and house of representatives to impose even stronger sanctions. >> let me ask you a final question because 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? we've used dramatic, diplomatic, political and economic tools which are normally the right tools short of war to reverse this decision and at this point if we look at this cease-fire we've done a pretty good job at bringing this conflict and this attack to a halt. >> thank you. >> senator? >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> secretary, i want to raise the question of nuclear weapons with you in the context of
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turkey. we now know from public statement according to the president that there are 50 nuclear weapons in turkey at the incirlik air base and they're part of the nato defense. on september 4th, president erdogan said that he cannot accept turkey's lack of nuclear weapons. so my question to you, given this profound ambition which he stated, did vice president pence raise that issue with erdogan in his conversations with him just last thursday? >> i have no information in terms of the specifics of the conversation with president erdogan. we have, of course, seen president erdogan's statements
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with respect to nuclear weapons and i would underscore that turkey is a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and it has safeguards enforced with the iaea. it has accepted obligation never to acquire nuclear weapons and to apply the iaea safeguards with nuclear activities. >> given his conduct over last two weeks, i think that we should consider all of those documents and no longer relevant in terms of how he will be operating. have any top-level u.s. officials had conversations with the turkish government officials since he made that statement about his ambition now to procure nuclear weapons? >> i know of no such conversations at the highest level, senator, but i would underscore that neither have we seen activity that would be consistent with those aspirations. this is a political position. >> so you're an expert in this region.
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do you think that the united states negotiating with saudi arabia on a nuclear program for saudi arabia, could have any impact upon turkish am bigs bit given the fact that the saudi prince said that they may develop nuclear weapons. do you think that that is a factor in what is going on at this particular time in turkey? >> i don't want to try and read into the motivation of the president of turkey, but certainly turkish authorities pay considerable and close attention to developments in their region. i would think so, and i think that would give us an additional reason about why we should be careful about enrichment capacity which we would allow the saudis to possess on their own territory because that would trigger in erdogan a demand to give him equal privilege to do
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so. and from my perspective, i think that he's emboldened dramatically erdogan in this direction. he capitulated to turkey only weeks after erdogan had made his nuclear goal public and we just walked away from the defense of the border in syria. he failed to apply mandatory sanctions from turkey's purchase from the russian air defense system and he undercut the proliferation sanction stating that as president he wants his own treasury secretary to let north korea sanction evaders off the hook. so all of this is pointing in a very bad and dangerous direction. turkey and saudi arabia are if in a deadly escalation from my perspective and i think the president is setting the stage for a very bad, even bigger problem coming down the line in a very short period of time, and if i may just turn to the 50 nuclear weapons that we now have stored inside of turkey.
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i think it's pretty clear that if we were making a nato deployment decision today that we probably wouldn't be pointsing 50 of our weapons in turkey. have there been conversations with the state department and department of energy about a removal of those weapons from turkey? >> respectfully, senator, i'm not in a position to talk about nuclear force posture at this time. >> you're not able to do so? >> not able to do so. it's probably a question that would be most appropriately directed to the department of defense. >> okay. i appreciate that and ambassador jeffrey, i thank you for your service and i think in each instance, and after the fact, how do we handle the situations that has been created throughout my career without having consulted you that you do a good job after the fact. i just wish that each administration that they had listened to your advice at the beginning because you should always start out where you're
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going to be forced to wind up anyway and that's why we have career diplomats just to explain to administrations the messes that they are creating. thank you, chairman? >> senator graham? >> i would like to echo what admiral markey said. we have to play the ball where it lies in foreign policy. administer jefferies, do you believe that the threat of congressional sanctions have helped negotiations with turkey? >> i saw the effect on the turkish negotiating team the sanction legislation that you had co-authored landed on the table. >> well, i just want to echo to turkey, in case you're watching this, i'd like to have a good relationship with your country, but we can't have this this way. can we turn this around, ambassador jeffrey? >> we believe we're on a path to turning it around. >> i hope so.
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turning it around would include a resolution between turket and kurds that's sustainable. do you agree with that? >> over the longer term that would be a necessary -- and again, it's not with the kurds and it's with this element of the kurdish population. >> ypg. >> right. >> the way i envision this is turk ir's lengthity mat security concerns about ypg-armed elements have to be addressed and we need a demilitarized zone. do you agree with that? >> we think the way we addressed it in august was actually a very good way. >> what happened here in august we had a plan, we get it the ypg armed -- heavily-armed forces along the border is a non-starty for turkey and i've gotten that and i've gotten that for years. i've always toeldz friends that the ypg were there to help us with isis and we can't abandon these people and we're not going allow ethnic cleansing in the name of a buffer zone, do you agree with that?
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>> absolutely. so the goal is to have an international force that we all trust, does that make sense to police this safe zone? >> in theory, yes. the problem is finding in a national force that we can all trust. >> to the international community, get off your ass and help us. we've been doing a lot. you've been doing a lot with us, but help us. i don't like what president trump did, but it's been frustrating for months to try to get hundreds of troop, not thousands, to take a little pressure off us and end this fight between turkey and the ypg. so number two, do you agree to put this back together we need to continue the operation with isis and the kurds? >> with the sdf? >> absolutely. >> if we do not continue to partner on the ground in syria with the sdf forces, isis is for sure coming back? >> i would say it's -- it will be easier if we're on the
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ground. one way or the other, we have to partner with them. >> highly unlikely that without ground components -- put it this way. ground components working with sdf have worked in the past, do you agree with that? >> absolutely. >> it would be high risk to abandon that strategy? >> if that is your only goal, it is better to have some american or other -- >> it's my goal to not have isis come back. we need control there, do you agree with that? >> i do. >> do you agree that we shouldn't allow the oilfields to be taken over by the iranians? >> i agree that it is very important to have a presence be that american or allied in that area to ensure stability and security as a prerequisite for syria. >> double it's important for the united states to maintain the
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autonomous base so they can't flow weapons through lebanon into syria? [ inaudible ] >> press your button. >> it's on. >> it's important for israel, right? >> it's important for all of our allies including israel. >> 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, right? that would be one solution they want to support. >> we want to continue a successful partnership to make sure that isis does not come back. we've had a successful partnership with sdf regarding isis thus far. do you agree with that? >> absolute she. how do you turn this around. you're making adjustments and i'm asking the administration to adjust and i not what you're trying to accomplish for the footprint. i do believe you're on the right path and we'll continue to support your efforts and what
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senator cruz says it's important, if we leave the kurds behind in their mind and the eyes of the world good luck with having anyone else in the future to help us fight isis. this is the most important decision the president had to make some time. i believe we're on the right track. i will not legitimize a solution that is not real. we're playing with people's lives so we have to have a real solution. thank you both for what you've done. >> senator merkley. >> mr. am, what forces did we rely on for liberating raqqa? >> that was sdf forces with again, advise assistant and company by u.s. special forces and other -- >> the kurds did the heavy fighting in a very difficult assault. they lost a lot of people and their vision for why they were fighting was it because they hoped to have an autonomous area
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in this northern syrian triangle that might essentially give them some sense of ability to govern themselves? >> their main motive, i believe, was to destroy isis because they had almost been destroyed by isis themselves in 2015. >> i've talked to many of the political cadre who have ideas of an autonomous area in northeast syria, but that's part of the political process that we're working on on another channel. >> there was, to be fair, and it's difficult, i think, for english speakers which will be a self-governed autonomous area with the whole philosophy of democratic control, and they were fighting for a vision of the future. you just had a discussion with
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senator graham about reversing this decision. reit now the whole. what whole triangle that's the northeast and the euphrates river that very recently would have been yellow for kurdish control is now essentially occupied by syrian governmental forces, russians and turks and iraqis are fleeing into -- not iraqis, excuse me, but the kurds who were in that triangle were fleeing to the east. the vision of an autonomous zone, self-government is crushed. is that not a fair thing to say? >> i think it's too early to judge what the political outcome of what's happening in the northeast or frankly any place else. what's happening in the northwest. >> well, it sure is possible to
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observe any pictures coming over of the advancing russians and syrian government forces and turkish forces. the facts on the ground have changed dramatically. i don't see how this decision gets reverse said, how you restore, if you will, the kurdish triangle northeast of the euphrates river. do you think that that's a real potential outcome or that's just conversation to say maybe somehow everything is not lost in terms of what was? >> one, i think the kurdish population is an important population in syria and that it does have a future. two, you're right -- >> as an autonomously self-governed area. that's a possibility that we see next door in iraq, but two, i want to emphasize this vision, which is a vision of our partners was never an american
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vision. again, i cite tony who said in his discussions with them in the last administration and that's been consistent in both administrations by everybody, we didn't get involved in what their political future would be. other than that, we were trying to find through the u.n. resolution that was relevant here, 2254, a political solution that they don't have a role. >> well, let's move on because i believe there was a lot of implicit support for supporting the kurds in what you were carrying. i think you overstate your case on that. you said you were not consulted of the -- not on the imon cuddish government coming into the place. not in the allies. you weren't consulted, but you said you were wale represent by
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pompeo. are you saying in the two or three days before trump made this decision or before that that you fully briefed pompeo of these implications of a precipitous withdrawal? >> sir, we briefed the secretary or through the secretary on the implications of that, after the december 2016 decision and this led to a partial reversal of the decision with the president's commitment to a residual force that he took in syria. >> so that was december, but we're not in december. we're talk being about that the read think to you, you're the expert, how do things stand now? were you brief brief will the
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decision to green light the turni turnish turkish invasion. >> in 2016 for the withdrawal which was reversed and one of the most act itch decisions inside this administration. >> i'm going to be out of time. i'm talking when the president was briefed by pompeo and not what you did months before. we collectively understand whatever he was told months before about this kind of situation. so was pompeo as caught off guard as you were? is there maybe another way to put it? >> you would have to ask him, senator. he did not call you and say the president is on the verge of this decision and i want an update and make sure i represent the impacts. >> no, but in numerable discussions with the president i know secretary pompeo had
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deployed these concerns with the future of the de-isis campaign can details of that. this was something that was discussed all of the time and at the highest level snoops if i had time, the thing it found swg. i'm afraid i'll have to defer to the committee and if you had been called, he wants to get our troops out of sir kr. do you feel, do you think it has a plan in the way that it doesn't invest russia and isis that would have gotten our troops out of syria? >> i would have tried. >> thank you. >> sam. >> i want to thank you both for being here. ambassador, in particular, you've gotten a lot of the questions and you've done an
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admiral job about outlining your thoughts on it and the way forward. i do want to say you've expressed a level of -- i don't want to call it optimism, but hope that some of this is still se salvageable, and i'm puzzled by that. the turks are pushing down into iraq and to syria with the goal of driving the kurds out and whether they'll wait five days or x number of days they expect them out of there. they have now cut a deal with the russians who have basically said we are going to help you move the kurds out of this area and we'll jointly patrol the area with you. so the kurds have been pushed into areas that they've now had to invite the assad regime to come up and they're aligned with them. so you basically have a turkish with the russians and now the kurds with assad and between them. we'll continue to cooperate with the sdf forces on these issues.
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how? how -- where are we plugging in on this and with who? our troops we moved a thousand across the border with iraq and the iraqis are saying you can't really stay here. you're not allowed to stay here. you're saying we'll plug in and work with them on the anti-isis campaign. i just don't know where we're going plug in. i will go down there deployed next with the assad elements, and you answered senator outcome that we trust. it is now patrolled by the russians which i don't think we should trust and by the turks which we shouldn't trust because they have broken a deal to jointly patrol the buffer zone. everyone was complying and it wasn't after that. we don't have that. how do we reverse the buffer zone given the facts on the ground now, and more importantly, where do we plug in?
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this is why one has to be hopeful, but let me sketch out where we are tonight. one, we have american forces on the ground with the leadership of the sdf. we have american diplomats on the ground with the same room with these people continuing to do the job we've been doing since 2014 and over much of the northeast, the sdf, with our support and with our air cover is still in operation. two, the turkish offensive has been halted since the 17th. it has taken a swath of territory that's been very small and by and large, most of its forces are still intact and i underline still intact. there is an agreement that i have been reading all afternoon between the turks and the
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russians and one which didn't work with the turks over the last two months and i have a fairly good layman's acquaintance with these kinds of things and it's full of holes. all i know is it will stop the turks from moving forward, whether the -- the feasible methods to get the ypg out of there areas. i don't know. we didn't get the ypg out. they volunteered said a a condition of the ypg as a military force down on the of aite ease, we've reviewing our options in terms of what we'll do in terms of withdrawal right now. >> i'm confused by that answer and my understanding from what was reported in the press we're in the process of withdrawing our military presence in that part of syria.
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so you're saying that as of this moment tonight there are areas in syria patrolled by the ypg in which u.s. diplomats and forces are embedded alongside them and these are areas that the turks do not consider part of their agreement and that are not co-located with the assad regime? >> you've described at least half of northeast syria tonight, if not more. >> that is a situation that's sustainable given the order that we remove military elements. >> sustain -- it's our job how to make it -- yoegz, that there one any elementses left behind in combination with the u.s. deputy matich presence and what's ongoing that the admin
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straegz which editor is get, and i'm not shire --? it's done. i'm not sure what the decision is on air over that area, but again, we're reviewing how we are going to continue to maintain a relationship with esdf. how we will continue to maintain the fight against isis along the euphrates, and how we will contribute in some way to the stability of the region that's been torn asunder by the turks going in with the tools available to us, but we haven't completed the rescue yet, but it's oning about. >> thank you very much for being here. i have a question to both of you. the future of our relationship with turkey, a longtime nato ally i believe is a serious national security challenge
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right now. it's being called a troubled marriage and lots of problems with turkey's relationship, and not just the u.s., but all of nato. bilateral relations between the u.s. and turkey have reached a low point, in my opinion. turkey's purchase of the russian 400s puts us at risk. turkey's invasion and the parters in in, what is the best tool, or best leverage, ask ensure that there is a change in their behavior. >> thank you for that question, senator. i agree with just about everything you've said and about how turk i it is. but it is far an easy relationship. the particular issues that you
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highlight turkey's decision to acquiring the s-400 missile system from russia, and this is something that we opposed c consistently and turkey proceeded over our objections and paid a price for that. in particular, they paid a price by being removed by the f-35 program and that includes the miss cal aircraft and the participation in the industrial program which is being unwoundz and there are immediate costs and consequences for turkey of that decision. the additional issue of possible cuts and sanks are under review even as we speak. that's an ongoing deliberate of process there is high-level dialogue that pea with, and that includes the relationship with russia and turkey's decision to move ahead with s-400 and that includes turkey's behavior, inran and drilling off the coast
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of cyprus which is something that turkey has engaged in against the advice of the united states. something that we feel contribute, and where turkey doesn't see eye to eye ask it includes the turkish environment. the rule of law. we remind the turks on a regular daysis that nato is an alliance not just of interest, but of l values and it's a difficult relationship and it's an important one and we'll hopefully have a better mind set and hopefully come out in a better bliss. >> i've lived in turkey for nine years and have worked there for 40 years. i'm personally furious at this military move, particularly after we had done an agreement with them that was a good agreement that we were living up
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to, by and large in august, but i will say this turkey is not iran. it is also in many respects a country with shared values. it currently has a government that is mr. palmer can go into far more detail than i because i don't floel it that closely is violating many of those favalue but it is still a democratic election where iran is not as we saw in the re-election. and it is a country that has done a great deal in support of our objectors in nato with previous prime minister erdogan in terms of helping us react to the invasion in 2008. nato radar that protects all of nato against iranian missiles and very critical and actions in afghanistan and i can go on and on.
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it's a mixed bag. a lot of it right now is with this govern am, we have very serious problems and not as many as with the tight as a whole. >> let me ask you one question. the syrian forces are securing about 10,000 isis detainees across 30 different detention facilities in syria with the turkey's invasion of northern syria greatly destabilizing the area where these detention facilities are located. there have been press reports that the turkey-backed forces, the proxy forces are deliberately releasing isis detainees from northern syria. can you talk a little bit about it. and the accuracy about what some of the press is reporting? >> why would turkey do that? it's had more isis attacks on its soil than any other country, obviously iraq and syria. >> my time has expired. >> senator menendez? >> thank you, mr. chairman.
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you know, i'm the longest serving member of the committee on either side of the aisle at this point in time and that has given me the benefit of listening to my colleagues on many issues over a period of time, and i must say that if what this administration decided was decided by the obama administration, the outrage would be deafening and you know, ambassador jefferies i have the greatest respect for you, but one can try to put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. one can ultimately capitulation a victory, but it's still capitulation and one can call it a retreat, but it's still a retreat and that's what happened here. >> you made a statement earlier about being a diplomat and not a military person, and i respect that, but in fact, it is a
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military force that's gotten russia and turkey exactly what they want. turkey went ahead and through its actions and by the agreement that i've been given the -- the agreement -- the -- the communique that was issued. basically, they got everything they want. they don't have to fire a single shot. so here we are in august, we made an agreement and they were living up to it, and that agreement for security purposes was working well. they violated it, after we told the, you know syria's democratic forces to stand down from their defenses. so they got them to stand down in the defenses and then we had an agreement which was working perfectly well and they violated that agreement by now coming in
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and, you know, and -- using military -- i'm concern about the reports that say bombs are landing near our troops, even though they know their location, that have group advancement where our troops were. so at the end of the day turkey gets a between-mile wide swath through a good part of what was ancestral homes of kurds in syria, and they get the sanctions lifted from them, not that i think the sanctions that were in place were the greatest ones because at the end of the day the stock market and turkey went up after the sanctions were announced. so they got everything. so i don't understand how at the end of the day this is in any interest about the united
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states. i've never said that we were there to dfefend the kurd, but e were there to defeat isis and we are by far in a worse position. >> i think the written testimony is more revealing than even the questions we've had back and forth. you talk about the u.s. strategic objective and national security interest and syria, and the reduction and explosion and the resolution of the syrian civil war on terms favorable to the united states and our allies and in line with the u.n. security council resolution 2254. isn't it fair to say that those strategic objectives and national security interests have been made far more difficult as a result of the decisions and where we're at today?
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once again, that's the reason why we opposed turkey coming in. we said if you come in you are going to, as i said, scramble the entire security system in the northeast. that's going have a big impact on fighting isis. >> but they did what they wanted. we retreated. we retreated impeach we did what they wanted and we retreated. i think your statement tells it all, i guess it's four fore, he lust, and risking and endangering civilians, destroying critical civilian infrastructure and destroying the area. turkey's actions have precipitated a humanitarian crisis and set the possible war crimes. all of that isn't help our strategic objectives as outlined in your testimony. ink that's a fair statement.
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>> absolutely. no doubt that turkey's coming in has threatened all three of our objectives in syria. >> so at the end of the day i question whether or not we've been talking about turkey and, you know, mr. assistant secretary, you said in response to questions by senator markey that it's an important relationship for the united states. my question is does turkey see the u.s. as an important relationship for it? because if is does -- in doing everything contrary to what a good relationship with us would really mean? >> one final set of questions. you're familiar, mr. secretary, with the casa legislation that passed the senate 98-2 and signed into law by rz arizona i 2017? >> y senator. >> are they sanctioning any
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significant transaction with the russian military? >> yes, sir t does. >> does turkey have the 400 if delivery this up are summer. >> is there no sign it it's not significantly under the law. >> i can't get ahead by any decision by the secretary of state with respect drop catsa. >> i asked whether or not the purchase worldwide of an s-400 is want a significant transaction. >> senator, that determination has not been made as a matter of law. >> wow. what a message we're sending in the world. that message undermines the action of the congress of the united states with an overwhelming, bipartisan vote sent to the president, legislation to push back on
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russia. 98-2. if you start opening that door you would have undermined the very essence of what the law is meant and you would be undermeaning the congressional intent because i'm one of the authors of it. i understand what i meant and what others who joined with me to ultimately pass it meant. it is not a question of whether that is a significant transaction. that is a significant transaction. if the purchase of the s-400 is not a significant military transaction from a country purchasing it from russia, then nothing is. then nothing is. i simply cannot understand, you know, that answer and at some point you all will have to in up with an answer, including if it's the state department or the administration's legal view that sch a transaction is not a significant transaction under the law. we need to hear it, but the congress of the united states
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needs to hear it, but you can't hide under the guise -- >> we've been thinking about this for a long time and this isn't the first time the question has been raised and you need to give us an answer, and if you fail to give it to you because at the end of the day we need to send a global message about what is the significant transaction and if it's not when a -- inhofe, senator reed, the ranking member, senator reich, and myself who signed on to a public op ed to try to get turkey to go in a difficult direction, we made it very clear if that's a significant transaction it's sanctionable under catsa. >> so if it's different, we need to be. thank you, mr. chairman. >> he's made it clear that the catsa deliberations are multifacetted and conducted on a
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case by case basis. the importance decision maintains cat saa's during arm sales around the wor, and those deliberations are is incredible. you want to many thain the credibility of catis 00, and if you don't, then you've neutered the law and the congress should act appropriately. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you and thank you to both of the witnesses for testifying today and we sincerely appreciate your patience with us. it's been a long suffering, but we do appreciate it. for the benefit of the members the record will remain open until thursday evening, for written questions for the record and if the witnesses would as quickly as possible respond to those questions they will be
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made part of the record. with that, the committee is adjourned.
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>> if you miss good of the senate foreign relations committee on the u.s. withdrawal from syria, it's available online at c-span.org or you can watch it tonight at 9:00 p.m. on c-span as trump administration officials answer questions on u.s. policy on syria, turkey and the kurds. tonight on c-span3, a house judiciary subcommittee on how companies use personal data for advertising and other business purposes. you can watch it at 8:00 p.m.
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eastern or any time online at c-span.org or listen with the free c-span radio app. facebook ceo mark zuckerberg goes by the house financial services committee tomorrow and he'll be answering about the cryptocurrency project and he's asked about the political labs and free speech on the social media platform and watch it live at 10:00 eastern here on c-span3. it will be a short day of work as members of congress pay tribute to the late maryland congressman, lieja cummings. the former committee chair will lie in states on the outside of the u.s. capitol where the public will be able to pay their respects. watch live thursday morning at 10:30 eastern. the funeral is friday. live friday night, two candidates challenging president trump for the republican nomination. c-span hosts a conversation with
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former massachusetts governor bill weld and former south carolina governor and congressman marc sanford to talk about their plans, strategies and why they're running against the president. they'll be taking your calls, sweets and facebo tweets and facebook comments. watch any time on c-span.org and listen wherever you are using the free c-span radio app. our c-span campaign 2020 bus team is traveling across the country visiting key battleground states in the 2020 presidential race asking voters what issues they want presidential candidates to address during the campaign? >> an issue to me that is by far the most important and the most paramount in the 2020 election is the climate crisis, and i'm electing to call it the climate crisis or the college emergency to express the urgency of the matter.
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according to the famous report we have only 11 years to deal with this issue and we need to understand that 11 years is not a ton of time in historical or political context at all and so this is absolutely an emergency and we have to deal with this right now, today. >> the thing i really want presidential candidates to be talking about is the second amendment as to why they want to on eye agree with the whole gun control thing, but if it's stuff being bought on the plaque market then why do they want to take our gun away? why do they want to take away from the civilians of this country and why do they want to disarm us? >> and i would like the candidates to address how to revitalize solidarity and the trade union movement across borders and also where they
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stand on free on the former president of brazil? >> education. our kids are being left behind and in education the government tells you that you have to do this and do that, but no funding available. and then the taxpayers have to come up with it. >> voices from the campaign trail, part of c-span's battleground states tour. >> russia is working on talks between the leaders of syria and turkey after u.s. withdrawal from syria and turkey's advance into the northern part of the country. brad mcgirk for the coalition to defeat isis and two other mideast policy experts spoke at the foundation for defense of democracies regarding how president trump's decision will impact the region as well as its implications for u.s. national security. mr. mcgirk served in this position under presidents obama and president trump from 2015 to 2018.

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