STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
How does the United States stop a Turkish invasion of Syria, for which the U.S. had previously cleared the way? President Trump has imposed sanctions against Turkey. He is warning Turkey's leader, President Erdogan, not to go too far in a region where the U.S. withdrew. Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence said he is being sent on a mission with the national security adviser.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The president has directed me and Robert O'Brien to lead a delegation to Turkey in the immediate future to begin discussions and negotiations to bring the bloodshed to an end.
INSKEEP: But a few hours before that, the president was on Twitter and seemed to dismiss the conflict. He said it was, quote, "7,000 miles away." And as for the Kurds, U.S. allies in Syria who are now in trouble, the president said he did not care if they got help from, quote, "Russia, China or Napoleon Bonaparte." Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen is on the line now. Senator, good morning.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Good morning. Good to be with you.
INSKEEP: Do you support the vice president's effort to negotiate some better arrangement?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I support any effort to stop the Turkish incursion and slaughter of our Syrian Kurdish allies. But the reality is that what the president has done so far is, first, green light the Turkish operation to begin with, and now the sanctions he announced yesterday are really pathetic. The steel sanctions represent - steel represents about four-tenths of 1% of all of Turkey's exports. The president still has a standing invitation to President Erdogan to visit the United States. A lot more is necessary to get the Turks to stop and to protect ourselves from the resurgence of ISIS, which is what's going to happen. Secretary Mattis and others have predicted that.
INSKEEP: There are ISIS fighters who seem to be getting loose as this is all happening. Now, you talk about wanting to do more. As I understand it, you and a Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have been working together to come up with some kind of congressionally passed sanctions. Is that going to work, and are enough Republicans going to be with you on it?
VAN HOLLEN: Yes, we are. We'll be introducing that very shortly. There's also bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives. And I think it will have very strong bipartisan support. You've heard strong negative reactions across the political spectrum, and our proposed sanctions will be very biting and they will stay in effect until Turkey ends its aggression against the Syrian Kurds and withdraws its forces and proxies from the areas that it's taken.
INSKEEP: Although I'm just trying to think this through, and I don't want to sound cynical, Senator, but, of course, it takes a while to legislate. It would take weeks. It might take months. Meanwhile, Turkey is conducting its operation. Could they not kill everyone they want to kill, to put it brutally, and then they say, OK, fine, we'll withdraw now?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, time is of the essence, and the best thing that could happen would be for President Trump to impose devastating sanctions. After all, he's tweeted several times that he wants to - he can, quote, "devastate" the Turkish economy. And he has it within his power to do a lot more than he's done. He's constantly flip-flopping on this issue. But Congress, when it wants to, it can move very quickly. We could enact sanctions in the House and Senate very quickly, send it to the president's desk. So it's essential that we do it. Look, my view, Steve, is that we've got to do everything we can to end the slaughter against the Syrian Kurds, to stop the resurgence of ISIS. This is a desperate moment, and we do everything we can do.
INSKEEP: This, though, does point to a larger conflict that's been going on for a long time. Turkey has certain interests in the region. They don't always match up with U.S. interests in the region. Turkey is a NATO ally - really valuable NATO ally - but just sees the world differently than perhaps some of the other NATO allies do. Does it makes sense and is it going to continue to make sense for Turkey to remain in NATO and aligned with the United States?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, you're asking a very fundamental question, and Turkey is really testing NATO and its relationship with NATO. In addition to their efforts to slaughter our allies, the Syrian Kurds, they've taken delivery of a Russian S-400 advanced defense system against our strong objections. And, in fact, the Congress has now said that Turkey will no longer be able to take the F-35 advanced fighter because by having the Russian air defense system, they will put NATO pilots at risk and put NATO security at risk. So Turkey has been drifting the other way, and I think it's time for an important debate with respect to what their role in NATO is going to be. But for now, we just got to deal with the immediate situation that we've got.
INSKEEP: Which means just press the Turks not to go too far in Syria or to get out of Syria - what is the bottom-line demand?
VAN HOLLEN: Oh, the bottom line is to get out of Syria. They have no reason to be in Syria. What they're doing is really allowing ISIS to, you know, come back. You know, Turkey from the very beginning...
INSKEEP: About 10 seconds.
VAN HOLLEN: ...Has not been with us in the fight against ISIS. They allowed a lot of ISIS fighters to come through Turkey many years ago whereas the Syrian Kurds have been with us as partners in this effort. So...
INSKEEP: Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland...
VAN HOLLEN: ...Turkey needs to get out.
INSKEEP: Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, thanks so much.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.
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