President Donald Trump is set to impose economic sanctions on Turkey as early as this week for its incursion into northern Syria, one of the few levers the United States still has over the NATO-ally.
Using the military to stop the Turkish offensive on US-allied Kurdish fighters was never an option, officials say, with Trump also asking the Pentagon to begin a “deliberate” withdrawal of all US troops from northern Syria.
After Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday Mr Trump had authorised “very powerful” sanctions targeting Turkey, the administration appears ready to make good on the threat to obliterate Turkey’s economy.
On Sunday, Mr 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,” he said on Twitter, referring to the loyal ally who lambasted him 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!”
Dealing with @LindseyGrahamSC and many members of Congress, including Democrats, about imposing powerful Sanctions on Turkey. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2019
A US official speaking anonymously said sanctions were “being worked out at all levels of the government for rollout”.
Mr 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 US troops out of the border area.
Turkey’s offensive aims to neutralise the Kurdish YPG militia, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces 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.
Mr 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 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.
It is unclear what sanctions have been drafted, which Mnuchin says are ready for activation at any moment, or how severe they are.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry says it will retaliate against any steps to counter its efforts to fight terrorism.