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White House warns Turkey it might ‘shut down’ its economy over Kurdish strikes

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a Press Briefing in the James S. Brady Briefing Room of the White House on Oct. 11, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/TNS)
October 11, 2019

Treasury Steven Mnuchin announced Friday that President Donald Trump has given himself broad new sanctions powers to slap “primary and secondary sanctions” on senior Turkish officials over that government’s military strikes in Syria, which were enabled by the U.S. pullback of its own troops.

Mnuchin described the powers, which Trump was to codify later Friday via an executive order, as “very significant authorities.” The executive order will not, however, put new sanctions in place.

“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them,” he said, before echoing a threat made by the president earlier this week: “We could shut down the Turkish economy if we wanted to.”

Trump announced Sunday he would remove American forces from northern Syria that were essentially standing between Turkey’s military and Kurds, who control of much of that area. Turkish President Recep Erdogan wasted little time, unleashing his military onto Syrian soil by Wednesday and soon after hitting Kurdish targets.

Erdogan is slated to visit the White House in the next few weeks, though a date has not yet been decided, aides said.

The decision and subsequent Turkish invasion brought howls from Republican lawmakers in a rare break with Trump.

“While the administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Thursday, referring to a sanctions measure he and Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen announced. “Most Members of Congress believe it would be wrong to abandon the Kurds who have been strong allies against ISIS.”

Trump has backtracked and played multiple sides of the fence since making his announcement then taking GOP fire about it. He has cast the Turkey-Kurd dispute as hundreds of years old and not in the U.S. interest to remain in the midst of any longer.

“Turkey knows where I stand,” he told reporters Thursday. “We had a big victory. We left the area. I don’t think the American people want to see us go back in with our military, go back into that area again.

“We won. We left the area,” he said, repeating his claim disputed by Graham, other lawmakers and regional experts that the Islamic State, or ISIS, has been defeated. “I don’t think we want to go back in.”

All week, he threatened to punish Erdogan if he decided the Turkish campaign was too harsh possibly.

“We are going to possibly do something very, very tough with respect to sanctions and other financial things,” Trump said, declaring there are three options for Washington.

“You have the choice of bringing in the military and defeating everybody again,” he said. “Or, you have the choice of financially doing some very strong things to Turkey so that they take it a little bit easy on (the Kurds).”

The third option? “We have a very good relationship with the Kurds. Or we can mediate,” he said. “I hope we can mediate.”

The potential sanctions would not preclude Trump deciding to move to options one or two, of course. He is prone to changing his mind.

Though lawmakers from both parties want him to send the relatively small U.S. military contingent back to the area, the possible economic penalties likely will draw some bipartisan applauds.

“I fully support the sanctioning of Turkey for its actions,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. “But by ignoring Pentagon and State Department advice and withdrawing our troops, President Trump is seriously undermining our fight against ISIS. His decision is a betrayal of every Kurd who has sacrificed during that fight.”


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