US President Donald Trump has announced plans to impose sanctions against current and former Turkish government officials and raise tariffs on the country’s steel exports to 50 per cent, following Ankara’s military advance into Syria.
Mr Trump has attracted sharp criticism from fellow Republicans, Democrats and US allies after making an abrupt shift in US foreign policy in the region this month by consenting to a Turkish military incursion in north-east Syria against US-backed Kurdish militias who have been instrumental in defeating Isis.
The US president said on Monday afternoon that he would “soon” issue an executive order enabling the US to “impose powerful additional sanctions” on “any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilising actions”. These penalties, he said, could include financial sanctions, the blocking of property and barring entry into the US.
He also said he would increase tariffs on steel imported from Turkey to the US to 50 per cent and halt negotiations over “a $100bn trade deal” between the two countries. The US had halved tariffs on Turkish steel in May to 25 per cent.
The president did not say when the sanctions or tariffs would go into effect.
“The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate and finance these heinous acts in Syria,” Mr Trump said. “I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.”
Democratic leaders in the Senate rejected Mr Trump’s announcement, saying: “Strong sanctions, while good and justified, will not be sufficient,.” The senators called on Republicans to join them in “passing a resolution making clear that both parties are demanding the president’s decision be reversed”.
Mr Trump’s move was also less harsh than many investors in Turkey feared, after reports suggested Turkish financial institutions could be targeted. Turkey’s lira added to its losses on the announcement, to trade more than 0.7 per cent weaker at 5.9267 to the dollar.
On Sunday, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erodgan said sanctions would not make him change course in Syria, saying: “Those who think they can make Turkey turn back with these threats are gravely mistaken.”
The White House initially said the US would remove a small number of troops from near the Syrian border with Turkey. But on Sunday, Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, said that the roughly 1,000 American forces stationed in northern Syria would be pulled out because the Turkish offensive would be broader than expected. Hours later, Kurdish forces said they had struck a deal with the Syrian regime and its Russian backers to stem the Turkish incursion.
Mr Trump said on Monday that a “small footprint” of US forces would remain at At Tanf, a military base in southern Syria, to “continue to disrupt remnants of Isis”.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican senate majority leader who has historically backed the president, said on Monday he was “gravely concerned by recent events in Syria and by our nation’s apparent response thus far”. He had previously warned that a “precipitous withdrawal” would benefit Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, as well as Isis.
Analysts say the Turkish economy is better placed to withstand punitive measures than it was last summer, when largely symbolic US sanctions aimed at forcing the release of an American pastor detained in Turkey wiped almost 30 per cent off the value of the lira.
However, the country remains heavily reliant on foreign financing that could be scared off by sanctions. Turkey has $180bn in short-term debt coming due within in the next year.
Analysts worry that given the high tensions between Ankara and Washington, sanctions could descend into a spiral of tit-for-tat measures. Turkey’s foreign ministry has said the country would respond with “full reciprocity” to US sanctions.
Earlier on Monday, before the president’s announcement, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, said she had spoken with Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, and agreed on the need for a “bipartisan bicameral joint resolution to overturn the president’s dangerous decision in Syria immediately”.
“As we find ourselves in a situation where the president gave a green light to the Turks to bomb and effectively unleashed Isis, we must have a stronger sanctions package than what the White House is suggesting,” Ms Pelosi said on Twitter.