US sanctions Turkey over Syria offensive

After a week of threats, United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday sanctioning three Turkish ministers and two ministries over Turkey’s unilateral incursion into northern Syria. His administration has offered to mediate a ceasefire and warned that more sanctions could follow if Turkey does not end its military incursion.

Violence has escalated as Turkish-backed groups continue to advance into northern Syria in its Operation Peace Spring, now in its eighth day.

Trump repeatedly warned he would introduce sanctions and, on Monday, the US Treasury Department formally sanctioned Turkey’s Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar, Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, and Fatih Donmez, the Minister of Energy.

Both the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources were also sanctioned.

“The United States is holding the Turkish Government accountable for escalating violence by Turkish forces, endangering innocent civilians, and destabilizing the region,” US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters in a joint press conference alongside Vice President Mike Pence on Monday.

Dealing with the designated ministers and their ministries is now prohibited, Treasury added. The department was clear, however, that the sanctions would not affect the operations of NGOs or United Nations in Turkey who are providing services to Syrians.

The sanctions will also not affect Turkey’s energy sector. The Treasury “is prepared to issue authorizations, such as general or specific licenses, as appropriate, to ensure that today’s action does not disrupt Turkey’s ability to meet its energy needs.”

“We are not looking to shut down the energy for the people of Turkey,” said Mnunchin.

Trump also announced measures against Turkey in a statement on Twitter on Monday, bringing steel tariffs back up to the 50 percent that had stood before being reduced in May.

“The United States will also immediately stop negotiations, being led by the Department of Commerce, with respect to a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey,” Trump said.

“Turkey’s military offensive is endangering civilians and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region. I have been perfectly clear with [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan: Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes,” the president said, demanding Turkey protect civilians and not jeopardize gains made in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump declared.

Mnuchin described the sanctions as “very very strong,” but qualified they would be lifted if Turkey took “necessary actions,” without going into further detail.

The US move came after European Union nations condemned Turkey’s military incursion.

“The EU condemns Turkey’s military action which seriously undermines the stability and the security of the whole region, resulting in more civilians suffering and further displacement and severely hindering access to humanitarian assistance,” a joint EU statement following a meeting of the Union read, announcing a commitment to stop selling arms to Turkey.

France’s Emmanuel Macron spoke with Erdogan by phone on Monday.

Pence, at the press conference, stated that he and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien will lead a delegation to Turkey, at Trump’s direction, in the “immediate future” for negotiations to end “the bloodshed.”

Trump is accused of giving Turkey the green light for its cross-border offensive in a phone call with Erdogan last week.

The American president subsequently ordered US forces to pull out of northern Syria.

Turkey eyes a stretch of territory anywhere up to 30 kilometers deep inside Syria that encompasses major urban centres like the symbolic town of Kobane where Kurdish and international forces dealt ISIS its first major defeat. Pence said trump received “firm commitment” from Erdogan that he would not attack Kobane. Turkey has fired artillery close to the now-evacuated US base that overlooks Kobane.

Pence revealed that Trump had spoken to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani Abdi, who had told Trump of the importance of Kobane for Kurds, on Monday, followed by a call with Erdogan.

US Senator Lindsey Graham was present during the two phone calls and said “President Trump gave Turkey the ability to undo the strategic damage they have already caused in a win-win fashion. I hope they will accept his outreach. Until there is a ceasefire and an end to the bloodshed, sanctions must continue and increase over time.”

Trump has offered to mediate, according to Pence.

The vice president threatened more severe sanctions if Turkey does not end its operations and enter negotiations.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper will visit NATO in Brussels next week to press against Turkey’s operation.