President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he is lifting sanctions on Turkey imposed after it invaded northern Syria. He said Ankara has guaranteed that a temporary cease-fire in the area will be "permanent."
"The sanctions will be lifted unless something happens that we are not happy with," Trump said at the White House.
He said that the five-day cease-fire announced on Thursday will "indeed be permanent," though he noted that "you would also define the word 'permanent' in that part of the world as somewhat questionable, we all understand that, but I do believe it will be permanent."
Trump used the address to fire back against criticism, leveled even by members of his own party, that slammed his decision to pull American forces out of northern Syria as a major geopolitical misstep. The move abandoned the U.S.-backed Kurds, who led the ground fight against the Islamic State terrorist group's caliphate, and delivered territory and influence to regional foes.
"Let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand," Trump said.
"The same people that I watched and read giving me and the United States advice were the people that I have been watching and reading for many years. They are the people who got us into the Middle East mess, but never had the vision or the courage to get us out," Trump said. "They just talk."
He said the announcement of a permanent cease-fire "validates our course of action with Turkey that only a couple of weeks ago was scorned."
The president's comments came hours after after Russian troops advanced toward northern Syria to facilitate the withdrawal of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighters from the area. The Russian troops will help patrol the border area on the Syrian side of the Turkish border, according to Russian state media.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a deal on Tuesday to jointly patrol the border zone formerly occupied by the Kurds, following hours of negotiations between the two leaders in the Russian city of Sochi.
The Kurdish forces, which Erdogan views as terrorists, were pushed from northern Syria by Turkish fighters following Trump's abrupt withdrawal of troops from the zone earlier this month.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers warned that Trump's unanticipated move will strengthen the influence of American adversaries, including Russia, and possibly boost the Islamic State group, which has thousands of members detained in the area in prisons overseen by the Kurds.
Kurdish forces reported shortly after the Turkish operation began that hundreds of suspected IS members escaped the Ayn Issa camp in northern Syria and that attacks were being launched by the group's "sleeper cells." The escapes could not be independently confirmed by CNBC.
Trump said Wednesday that the IS fighters have "been largely recaptured" and that the group was "under very strict lock and key."
Earlier Wednesday, James Jeffrey, the State Department's special envoy for Syria, testified to House lawmakers that more than 100 IS fighters had escaped.
"We do not know where they are," Jeffrey said.
Following Wednesday's announcement, Trump retweeted an account appearing to belong to a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces. According to the account, SDF commander Gen. Mazloum Kobani thanked Trump "for his tireless efforts that stopped the brutal Turkish attack and jihadist groups on our people."
"Thank you General Mazloum for your kind words and courage," Trump wrote in a subsequent tweet. "Please extend my warmest regards to the Kurdish people. I look forward to seeing you soon."