White House Threatens New Sanctions Against Turkey

WASHINGTON (CN) — Looking to make good on his promise to demolish Turkey’s economy if the country crosses the line in Syria, President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order expanding the Treasury Department’s ability to sanction Turkish officials.

Smoke billows from a fire inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The new executive order announced Friday afternoon by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in a White House press conference comes amid a week of sweeping backlash over Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and hand off regional control to Turkey.

Turkey says it plans to clear a “safe zone” of Kurdish militants it sees as terrorists during its military operation now underway, making space to house the millions of Syrian refugees it hosts.

But criticism from both the president’s political enemies and staunchest allies focused on the severe humanitarian threat and the betrayal of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces long allied with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State.

In response, Trump tweeted Monday that if Turkey did anything that he, in his “great and unmatched wisdom,” considers to be off limits, he would “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy.

But Mnuchin denied the president’s decision to withdraw, announced Sunday without consulting the Pentagon, led to the need for the executive order.

“I don’t think he thinks his actions are what led to this,” Mnuchin said during the Friday press conference. “It’s a complicated situation. It’s a situation that we are all concerned about, a humanitarian situation.”

Mnuchin assured reporters the president is concerned about Turkey targeting civilians and ethnic or religious minorities in Syria.

“We are putting financial institutions on notice that they should be careful, and that there could be sanctions,” the secretary said.

Emphasizing that the Treasury Department has not activated the sanctions, Mnuchin said they can target both the Turkish government directly and any persons associated with it.

With reports of civilian casualties rising since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched the invasion on Wednesday, thousands in Syria are fleeing their homes.

Critics also warn the attacks will divert Kurdish forces guarding thousands of ISIS prisoners in makeshift prisons.

Without addressing the complexities on the ground, Mnuchin said, “The president wants to make very clear — it is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape.”

The secretary gave no indication of what might trigger sanctions as the Turkish invasion unfolds.

“We will be communicating specifics that we’re not going to telegraph here,” Mnuchin said. The secretary also said he knew of no change to Erdoğan’s plans to visit the White House next month.

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