Monday 11 November 2019

President ready to hit Turkey with 'very powerful' new sanctions

Under fire: Donald Trump faced criticism over US troop withdrawal. Photo: Reuters
Under fire: Donald Trump faced criticism over US troop withdrawal. Photo: Reuters

Idrees Ali and Humeyra Pamuk

US president Donald Trump's administration is set to impose economic sanctions on Ankara, potentially as early as this week, for its incursion into northern Syria, one of the few levers the United States still has over Nato-ally Turkey.

Using the US military to stop the Turkish offensive on US-allied Kurdish fighters was never an option, defence officials have said, and Mr Trump asked the Pentagon on Sunday to begin a "deliberate" withdrawal of all US troops from northern Syria.

After Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that Mr Trump had authorised "very powerful" new sanctions targeting Turkey, the administration appeared ready to start making good on Mr Trump's threat to obliterate Turkey's economy.

Mr Trump said he was listening to Congress, where Republicans and Democrats are pushing aggressively for sanctions action.

"Dealing with @LindseyGrahamSC and many members of Congress, including Democrats, about imposing powerful Sanctions on Turkey," Mr Trump said on Twitter, referring to the loyal Trump ally and US senator who lambasted the president last week.

"Treasury is ready to go, additional legislation may be sought.

"There is great consensus on this. Turkey has asked that it not be done. Stay tuned!" he added.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that sanctions were "being worked out at all levels of the government for rollout".

Mr Trump is struggling to quell harsh criticism, including from some of his staunchest Republican backers, that he gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a green light to attack the Kurds last Sunday when he decided to pull a small number of US troops out of the border area.

Turkey's offensive aims to neutralise the Kurdish YPG militia, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

But the SDF has also been Washington's key ally in the fighting that has dismantled Isil's jihadist "caliphate" in Syria.

Mr Trump's decision, rooted in his long-stated aim to get the United States out of "endless wars", has prompted bipartisan concerns it opens the door to the revival of Isil.

While sanctions appear to be the strongest tool of deterrence, the United States and its European allies could also ponder arms sales bans and the threat of war crimes prosecutions.

"Good decision by President @realDonaldTrump to work with Congress to impose crippling sanctions against Turkeys outrageous aggression/war crimes in Syria," Mr Graham tweeted.

It is unclear what sanctions are in the order drafted last week, which Mr Mnuchin said was ready for activation at any moment, and whether they would be as severe as what lawmakers are proposing.

Representatives Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike McCaul, the committee's senior Republican, introduced a bill last Friday that would sanction Turkish officials involved in the Syria operation and banks involved with Turkey's defence sector until Turkey ends military operations in Syria.

It also would stop arms from going to Turkish forces in Syria, and require the administration to impose existing sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defence system.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said that Turkey would retaliate against any steps aimed at countering its efforts to fight terrorism, in response to the announcement of possible US sanctions against Turkey.

The United States has successfully gone after Turkey with sanctions and tariffs before, hitting Ankara last year in order to pressure authorities to return an American pastor on trial for terrorism charges.

The United States could look at targeting arm sales to Turkey, something a number of European countries have already done.

Irish Independent

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