US President Donald Trump on Monday authorized sanctions on Turkey’s leaders, reimposed steel tariffs and ended talks on a trade deal, seeking to punish the historic ally for its deadly offensive into Syria.
Trump announced the measures as he came under intense pressure at home for appearing to at first give the green light to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking to crush US-backed Kurdish fighters in war-ravaged Syria.
“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump, who until recently spoken of his friendship with Erdogan, said in a statement.
The president said he had issued an executive order to allow sanctions on sitting and former Turkish officials — although he has not yet imposed them — and was immediately ending talks on a US-Turkey trade deal he valued at $100 billion, a goal mentioned by Erdogan when he welcomed a US delegation last month.
Trump also said he was reimposing tariffs of 50 percent on Turkish steel — one of a series of measures taken last year to win the release of a detained US pastor, and which contributed to a plunge in the value of the country’s lira currency.
In May, Trump reduced tariffs back to 25 percent, in line with levels the protectionist-minded president has imposed on other trading partners including the European Union.
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, which he said had “resulted in the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees.”
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were in the forefront of the campaign to defeat Islamic State extremists, but Erdogan links them to separatist militants within Turkey.
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 defense system from Russia.