WASHINGTON – Both Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress said on Thursday they were prepared to toughen measures against Turkey for its attacks on Kurds in northern Syria.
A day after the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives passed a draft resolution against the withdrawal of US troops from the Middle Eastern country, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the initiative had encouraged him to seek a stronger response against Ankara.
“I believe it’s important that we make a strong, forward-looking strategic statement. For that reason, my preference would be for something even stronger than the resolution that the House passed yesterday, which has some serious weaknesses,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech.
On Wednesday, the House passed a legislative proposal with 354 votes in favor and 60 against condemning the US’ withdrawal from northern Syria, but it remained unclear whether the Senate would ratify the resolution.
McConnell criticized the motion for remaining “curiously silent on the issue of whether to actually sustain a US military presence in Syria, perhaps to spare Democrats from having to go on the record on this key question.”
Legislators continued to assess how to respond to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops, announced days before a Turkish offensive in Syria against Kurdish militias began on Oct. 9 following a telephone conversation between the president and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At the same time, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – one of the president’s main allies on Capitol Hill – and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) presented on Thursday a bipartisan draft bill to impose new sanctions on Ankara.
If approved, these sanctions would punish any US or foreign citizen providing aid to the Turkish Armed Forces in their offensive in Syria.
In a press conference, Graham said that “what Turkey did in Syria is unacceptable.”
“Turkey’s incursion into Syria hurts America’s national security,” he said, adding that it endangered the Kurds, whom the senator described as US allies.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the senior members of the Foreign Relations Committee, proposed another bill restricting arms sales to Ankara and imposing sanctions against Turkish officials and those supplying weapons to them
Earlier this week, the US government sanctioned three ministers in the Turkish government, announced an increase in tariffs on Turkish steel of up to 50 percent and closed the door to a possible trade agreement between the two countries in response to Turkey’s offensive.
While the Republicans expressed their discontent with the way Trump is handling the situation in Syria, the Democrats on Thursday spoke out against the president, who on Wednesday had a tense disagreement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the White House.
The Speaker accused Trump of benefiting Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, through his Syria policy.
On Wednesday, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had abruptly abandoned a White House meeting on Syria because of Trump’s alleged insults at the Speaker.
Shortly after, Trump called Pelosi “sick” on Twitter and posted a picture of her standing up and pointing at him in the White House, which the Democratic leader reacted to by making the image her profile banner on that social network.
When asked about the picture, Pelosi said on Thursday: “I think I was excusing myself from the room.”
Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was ambiguous about a meeting between Trump and Erdogan scheduled for Nov. 13 in Washington.
Mulvaney said it depended on how things turned out over the next few days and made a reference to Vice President Mike Pence’s and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s current visit to Turkey to meet with Erdogan to broker a ceasefire.