US slaps sanctions on Turkey as Syrian regime returns to north
The United States slapped sanctions on Turkey Monday as it demanded an end to the deadly incursion against Syrian Kurdish fighters, accusing its NATO partner of putting civilians at risk and allowing the release of Islamic State extremists.
The actions came hours after Syrian regime troops returned for the first time in years to northeastern parts of the country, invited by Kurdish fighters desperate for protection as the United States pulls out.
President Donald Trump took extraordinary measures against a country that is officially a US ally as he faces mounting criticism at home, where even usually supportive lawmakers accuse him of abandoning Kurds who had spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State group.
“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump, who until recently had touted his friendship with Erdogan, said in a statement.
The Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on Turkey’s defence, interior and energy ministers, freezing their US assets and making US transactions with them a crime.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the sanctions on Twitter, writing they “fall very short of reversing the humanitarian disaster brought about by (Trump’s) own erratic decision-making.”
Vice President Mike Pence said he would travel shortly to Turkey and that Trump had telephoned Erdogan on Tuesday to insist that Turkey end the operation.
Trump said he was also ending talks on a US-Turkey trade deal he valued at $100 billion and, in perhaps the most biting reprisal, re-imposing tariffs of 50% of Turkish steel.
The United States had slapped the 50% sanctions on Turkey last year to win the release of an evangelical pastor whose detention had stirred up Trump’s base.
Signalling an escalating rift in relations, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he would head next week to Brussels to ask NATO allies to punish Turkey over the incursion.
NATO has long been seen as keeping Turkey in the Western orbit, but Erdogan angered the United States earlier this year by buying the major S-400 missile defence system from Russia.
– Concerns over jihadists –
Erdogan has vowed to crush the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which he links to separatist militants inside Turkey.