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 U.S. military to stop the Turkish offensive on U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters was never an option, defense officials have said, and Trump asked the Pentagon on Sunday to begin a “deliberate” withdrawal of all U.S. troops from northern Syria.
After Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that Trump had authorized “very powerful” new sanctions targeting Turkey, the administration appeared ready to start making good on Trump’s threat to obliterate Turkey’s economy.
On Sunday, 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,” Trump said on Twitter, referring to the loyal Trump ally and U.S. 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 U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that sanctions were “being worked out at all levels of the government for rollout.”
Trump is struggling to quell harsh criticism, including from some of his staunchest Republican backers, that he gave Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a green light to attack the Kurds last Sunday when he decided to pull a small number of U.S. troops out of the border area.
Turkey’s offensive aims to neutralize 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 fighting that has dismantled Islamic State’s jihadist “caliphate” in Syria.
Trump’s decision, rooted in his long-stated aim to get the United States out of “endless wars,” has prompted bipartisan concerns that it opens the door to the revival of Islamic State.
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,” Graham tweeted.