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US Asks Turkey to Show Restraint in Syria

The United States is expressing concern about Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria and top officials are appealing for restraint and expressing concern the conflict could spread. 

At Monday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. understands Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” and is “committed to working with Turkey as a NATO ally.”  

“Increased violence in Afrin disrupts a relatively stable area of Syria,” she said. “It distracts from international efforts to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, it could be exploited by ISIS and al-Qaida for resupply and safe haven, and it risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.”

Sanders also urged Turkey “to exercise restraint in its military actions and rhetoric, ensure that its operations are limited in scope and duration, ensure humanitarian aid continues, and avoid civilian casualties. We want to ensure that Assad’s brutal regime cannot return to Afrin, and we will continue working diplomatically to end the Syrian civil war.”

Tensions between US, Turkey

While Washington wants to preserve its relationship with Turkey. it also has ties to Kurdish and other forces forces targeted by Turkey. 

In a London press conference Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “The U.S. is in Syria to defeat ISIS (the so-called Islamic State), and we’ve done that with a coalition of partners, and the Syrian Democratic Forces in particular, which are comprised of Kurdish and Arab, but also elements of Christian forces. It is truly a multiethnic group of fighters who are defending their home territory. And so we are concerned about the Turkish incident in northern Syria.”

Later, Tillerson downplayed concerns about rising tensions between Turkey and the United States.

“I don’t think you’re going to find two NATO allies facing off at all,” he said.

Tillerson said Turkey is worried about “terrorists crossing the border into Turkey and carrying out attacks and we appreciate their right to defend themselves, but this is a tough situation where there are a lot of civilians mixed in. So we’ve asked them to just, try to be precise, try to limit your operation, try to show some restraint.”

Advance notification

U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown told VOA the U.S. has no coalition operations in Afrin. He also said the U.S. has a MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Turkey where they let the U.S. know of operations in Syria and they have kept to that memorandum.  

“Turkey’s actions in Afrin are unilateral and not associated with coalition operations in Syria,” he said. “In accordance with an existing memorandum of understanding, Turkey is providing advance notification of its operations to the Coalition to ensure awareness prior to military actions.”

The French ambassador to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, asked for “the opportunity for an emergency meeting on the wider situation in Syria, the humanitarian situation in particular.”

He added, “our priority is about Eastern Ghouta and Idlib where there is a tragedy happening before our eyes that is totally unacceptable.”

​Tillerson to meet with French

On Tuesday, Tillerson will meet with senior French officials to discuss a range of issues, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, the threat from North Korea, and Ukraine. He will also attend the launch of the International Partnership against Impunity for Use of Chemical Weapons. 

State Department officials say Tillerson is set to make remarks in Paris on Syria and chemical weapons.  Tillerson told reporters he would have an exchange of views on stopping the use of chemical weapons.

“Obviously, we know chemical weapons are being used in Syria. We’ve seen it,” he said. 

Asked about new reports that Syria is again using chemical weapons against its own civilians. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Steve Goldstein, could not confirm the report, but he told reporters in Washington Monday:  

“Civilians are being killed and it is not acceptable,” he said.

U.N. to address use of chemical weapons?

Asked whether the United States would raise the issue at the U.N. Security Council, Goldstein said: “We’ll see tomorrow.” 

Goldstein added that Russia needs to do more to stop the killings. 

“Russia had failed to rid Syria of chemical weapons, and they’ve been blocking chemical weapons organizations. Enough is enough,” he warned.

VOA’s Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report

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US Asks Turkey to Show Restraint in Syria

The United States is expressing concern about Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria and top officials are appealing for restraint and expressing concern the conflict could spread. 

At Monday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. understands Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” and is “committed to working with Turkey as a NATO ally.”  

“Increased violence in Afrin disrupts a relatively stable area of Syria,” she said. “It distracts from international efforts to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, it could be exploited by ISIS and al-Qaida for resupply and safe haven, and it risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.”

Sanders also urged Turkey “to exercise restraint in its military actions and rhetoric, ensure that its operations are limited in scope and duration, ensure humanitarian aid continues, and avoid civilian casualties. We want to ensure that Assad’s brutal regime cannot return to Afrin, and we will continue working diplomatically to end the Syrian civil war.”

Tensions between US, Turkey

While Washington wants to preserve its relationship with Turkey. it also has ties to Kurdish and other forces forces targeted by Turkey. 

In a London press conference Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “The U.S. is in Syria to defeat ISIS (the so-called Islamic State), and we’ve done that with a coalition of partners, and the Syrian Democratic Forces in particular, which are comprised of Kurdish and Arab, but also elements of Christian forces. It is truly a multiethnic group of fighters who are defending their home territory. And so we are concerned about the Turkish incident in northern Syria.”

Later, Tillerson downplayed concerns about rising tensions between Turkey and the United States.

“I don’t think you’re going to find two NATO allies facing off at all,” he said.

Tillerson said Turkey is worried about “terrorists crossing the border into Turkey and carrying out attacks and we appreciate their right to defend themselves, but this is a tough situation where there are a lot of civilians mixed in. So we’ve asked them to just, try to be precise, try to limit your operation, try to show some restraint.”

Advance notification

U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown told VOA the U.S. has no coalition operations in Afrin. He also said the U.S. has a MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Turkey where they let the U.S. know of operations in Syria and they have kept to that memorandum.  

“Turkey’s actions in Afrin are unilateral and not associated with coalition operations in Syria,” he said. “In accordance with an existing memorandum of understanding, Turkey is providing advance notification of its operations to the Coalition to ensure awareness prior to military actions.”

The French ambassador to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, asked for “the opportunity for an emergency meeting on the wider situation in Syria, the humanitarian situation in particular.”

He added, “our priority is about Eastern Ghouta and Idlib where there is a tragedy happening before our eyes that is totally unacceptable.”

​Tillerson to meet with French

On Tuesday, Tillerson will meet with senior French officials to discuss a range of issues, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, the threat from North Korea, and Ukraine. He will also attend the launch of the International Partnership against Impunity for Use of Chemical Weapons. 

State Department officials say Tillerson is set to make remarks in Paris on Syria and chemical weapons.  Tillerson told reporters he would have an exchange of views on stopping the use of chemical weapons.

“Obviously, we know chemical weapons are being used in Syria. We’ve seen it,” he said. 

Asked about new reports that Syria is again using chemical weapons against its own civilians. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Steve Goldstein, could not confirm the report, but he told reporters in Washington Monday:  

“Civilians are being killed and it is not acceptable,” he said.

U.N. to address use of chemical weapons?

Asked whether the United States would raise the issue at the U.N. Security Council, Goldstein said: “We’ll see tomorrow.” 

Goldstein added that Russia needs to do more to stop the killings. 

“Russia had failed to rid Syria of chemical weapons, and they’ve been blocking chemical weapons organizations. Enough is enough,” he warned.

VOA’s Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report

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US Aid Chief Visits Raqqa Amid Stabilization Push

The U.S. government’s aid chief, Mark Green, made an unannounced visit to Raqqa in Syria on Monday, the most senior U.S. civilian official from the Trump administration to visit the war-struck northern city months after it was retaken from Islamic State.

Green was accompanied by the head of the U.S. Central Command General Joseph Votel, as the United States ramps up efforts to stabilize areas where Islamic State has been driven out by American-backed Kurdish militia.

Lessons from Libya and Iraq showed that stabilizing liberated areas was crucial to preventing them from falling back into the hands of militants.

“We’re at the point where people really do want to go home so this is the moment to seize,” Green, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said in a phone interview with Reuters after his seven-hour visit to Raqqa and the Ain Issa camp for people displaced by fighting.

As he drove through the densely built-up city, Green said he was struck by the devastation to buildings and roads, caused by U.S-led coalition air strikes and militia firing from homes.

“The devastation goes back as far as you can see,” Green said. “It is almost beyond description how deep the damage is.”

Green said he also visited a soccer stadium where the locker rooms had been turned into torture chambers for Islamic State.

“You can see a makeshift metal bed where they laid their torture victims right on the bed. It was just gruesome, gruesome,” he added.

But he said despite the destruction there were also signs of hope with vendors selling fruit on the sidewalks, families walking together, and people trying to clear rubble.

“Despite all of the destruction and all of the damage you still see signs of the human spirit … and it gives you so much hope,” he added.

Green’s visit comes days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled an open-ended military presence in Syria as part of a broader strategy to prevent Islamic State’s resurgence and pave the way for an eventual departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to curtail Iran’s influence.

U.S. forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year.

In the meantime, Turkey opened a new front in Syria at the weekend launching airstrikes against U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in Afrin province.

Green said the civilian mission was not to rebuild areas but to help civilians return home by clearing roadside bombs, removing rubble, and restoring water and electricity.

“The mission for us is stabilization not reconstruction,” Green emphasized. “Our part of it is restoring essential services and there is a lot of work to do,” he added.

Green said he would be traveling to Europe within days to press allies to help with stabilization efforts.

 

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US Aid Chief Visits Raqqa Amid Stabilization Push

The U.S. government’s aid chief, Mark Green, made an unannounced visit to Raqqa in Syria on Monday, the most senior U.S. civilian official from the Trump administration to visit the war-struck northern city months after it was retaken from Islamic State.

Green was accompanied by the head of the U.S. Central Command General Joseph Votel, as the United States ramps up efforts to stabilize areas where Islamic State has been driven out by American-backed Kurdish militia.

Lessons from Libya and Iraq showed that stabilizing liberated areas was crucial to preventing them from falling back into the hands of militants.

“We’re at the point where people really do want to go home so this is the moment to seize,” Green, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said in a phone interview with Reuters after his seven-hour visit to Raqqa and the Ain Issa camp for people displaced by fighting.

As he drove through the densely built-up city, Green said he was struck by the devastation to buildings and roads, caused by U.S-led coalition air strikes and militia firing from homes.

“The devastation goes back as far as you can see,” Green said. “It is almost beyond description how deep the damage is.”

Green said he also visited a soccer stadium where the locker rooms had been turned into torture chambers for Islamic State.

“You can see a makeshift metal bed where they laid their torture victims right on the bed. It was just gruesome, gruesome,” he added.

But he said despite the destruction there were also signs of hope with vendors selling fruit on the sidewalks, families walking together, and people trying to clear rubble.

“Despite all of the destruction and all of the damage you still see signs of the human spirit … and it gives you so much hope,” he added.

Green’s visit comes days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled an open-ended military presence in Syria as part of a broader strategy to prevent Islamic State’s resurgence and pave the way for an eventual departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to curtail Iran’s influence.

U.S. forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year.

In the meantime, Turkey opened a new front in Syria at the weekend launching airstrikes against U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in Afrin province.

Green said the civilian mission was not to rebuild areas but to help civilians return home by clearing roadside bombs, removing rubble, and restoring water and electricity.

“The mission for us is stabilization not reconstruction,” Green emphasized. “Our part of it is restoring essential services and there is a lot of work to do,” he added.

Green said he would be traveling to Europe within days to press allies to help with stabilization efforts.

 

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US Special Envoy for Ukraine Confirms Russia Talks

U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker says he is scheduled to hold a new round of talks with Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov in Dubai on Jan. 26.

Volker told VOA’s Ukrainian Service that he will arrive in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday and stop in Kyiv on Thursday, before heading to Dubai to discuss the war in eastern Ukraine and prospects for the introduction and possible format of the peacekeeping mission.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who confirmed the meeting at a Monday press conference, said he’s eager to see how talks go after Washington’s recent unveiling of new sanctions against Russia.

Kyiv, he said, is curious to see “how we can use new U.S. sanctions” to forge some kind of sustainable peace plan.

Volker called his last meeting with Surkov in Belgrade last November “a step back.”

“It was a welcoming meeting and a positive discussion, but it was a step back,” he said, calling Russia unready to entertain the idea of introducing a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Donbass.

“We will see what will happen at our next meeting,” he said.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service.

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US Special Envoy for Ukraine Confirms Russia Talks

U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker says he is scheduled to hold a new round of talks with Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov in Dubai on Jan. 26.

Volker told VOA’s Ukrainian Service that he will arrive in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday and stop in Kyiv on Thursday, before heading to Dubai to discuss the war in eastern Ukraine and prospects for the introduction and possible format of the peacekeeping mission.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who confirmed the meeting at a Monday press conference, said he’s eager to see how talks go after Washington’s recent unveiling of new sanctions against Russia.

Kyiv, he said, is curious to see “how we can use new U.S. sanctions” to forge some kind of sustainable peace plan.

Volker called his last meeting with Surkov in Belgrade last November “a step back.”

“It was a welcoming meeting and a positive discussion, but it was a step back,” he said, calling Russia unready to entertain the idea of introducing a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Donbass.

“We will see what will happen at our next meeting,” he said.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service.

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US Jerusalem Decision in Focus as Pence Visits Israel

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in Israel for talks Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an address to the Knesset as part of his four-day tour of the Middle East.

Senior White House officials said the vice president would be discussing the U.S.-Israeli relationship, ways to counter Iranian influence in the region, and strategy regarding the Syrian conflict.

In the Knesset speech, the officials said Pence would highlight that he was speaking from Jerusalem, in the context of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also planned to say there is an open window for both Israelis and Palestinians to get to work and make necessary sacrifices toward a long-sought peace agreement.

Trump’s decision brought sharp criticism from Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas who said the United States could no longer play a role in the peace process.

Arab members of parliament have said they will boycott Pence’s speech. Netanyahu criticized that decision during a Cabinet meeting Sunday while calling Pence a “great and true friend of Israel.”

Before traveling to Israel, Pence was in Jordan where King Abdullah expressed concern about the Jerusalem decision and urged the United States to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the search for a two-state solution.

King Abdullah said the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the two-state solution long sought by the international community, and that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Pence said the two countries had agreed to disagree on the Jerusalem issue.

“Friends occasionally have disagreements, and we agreed to disagree on recognizing Jerusalem. We agreed all parties need to come to the table. I hope I impressed on him our earnest desire to restart the peace process,” Pence told reporters after the meeting.

Before Jordan, Pence visited Cairo, where he pledged the U.S. would continue to support Egypt in its battle against terrorism. 

Pence also met with U.S. troops in the region before flying to Israel.

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Key California Highway Reopens After Deadly Mudslide

A coastal highway in California has reopened nearly two weeks after it was swamped by a massive mudslide that killed 21 people.

Highway 101, a key north-south route in California, was shut down after it was covered by 12 feet of mud after the deadly mudslide on January 9.

Officials had promised a day earlier that the highway, which carries more than 100,000 vehicles each day, would be open again in time for the Monday morning commute.

The good news for the locals came a day after rescue crews found the body of a 18-year-old mother Faviola Benitez Calderon , the 21st victim of the slide that brought down boulders and trees from hillsides in Montecito made bare by last month’s wildfires.

The bodies of Benitez Calderon’s 10-year old son, Jonathan Benitez; Jonathan’s 3-year-old cousin, Kaily Benitez; and Kaily’s mother, 27-year-old Marilyn Ramos, had already been found.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged and a 17-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl remain missing.

 

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