WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday denouncing Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria and gently prodding President Donald Trump to halt his withdrawal of U.S. troops from the embattled country.
But McConnell, R-Ky., said lawmakers should refrain from imposing sanctions on Turkey for now, saying, “We don’t want to further drive a NATO ally into the arms of the Russians.”
That puts him into conflict with the Democratic-led House, where a vote on a sanctions measure is planned for next week.
Senate Democrats also said they wanted to plunge ahead with sanctions legislation. A bipartisan package by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., would bar arms sales to Turkey and place sanctions on the assets of top officials in Ankara.
“The United States should not be dithering,” Van Hollen said of McConnell’s desire to hold off on sanctions. “We shouldn’t be twiddling our thumbs while our allies are being massacred and while ISIS is coming back.”
Turkey moved its forces in northern Syria this month after President Donald Trump abruptly decided to pull American forces out of northeastern Syria.
Trump’s move effectively abandoned Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have been a leading U.S. partner in battling forces of the Islamic State, a group also known by the acronyms IS or ISIS. His decision has been widely condemned by both parties in Congress, who have been searching for ways to press him to reverse the U.S. withdrawal.
McConnell’s resolution says the withdrawal of American troops should be halted “where practical,” and says the U.S. should continue using air power to attack IS fighters in Syria.
It also says Trump should rescind his invitation to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a White House visit until a solid ceasefire between Turkish and Kurdish forces has been reached. Many lawmakers have opposed that invitation as an unwarranted prize to an anti-democratic strongman.
Trump is said to be considering keeping a small U.S. force in Syria to secure the country’s oilfields.
McConnell’s statement came hours before the expiration of a five-day pause in fighting that was negotiated by Vice President Mike Pence and Erdogan.
The Democratic-led House last week overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan resolution opposing the U.S. troop withdrawal.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said the chamber will vote next week on a separate measure imposing sanctions on Turkey. That was confirmed by a Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
Engel said the sanctions are still needed, despite the cease fire and Trump’s consideration of retaining some troops in Syria.
“The president is unpredictable. You never know what he’s going to do from time to time,” he said.
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