After withdrawal, Trump prepares sanctions against Turkey over Syria attacks
WASHINGTON (CN) – A week after announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, President Donald Trump said Monday he will soon sign an executive order to impose economic sanctions against current and former Turkish officials for invading northern Syria.
The order will authorize a “broad range of consequences” for people involved in committing human rights abuses, obstructing a ceasefire or threatening Syrian stability, the president said in a statement.
In addition, tariffs on steel Turkish products will be set at 50% and talks on a new $100 billion trade negotiation will be put on hold.
“The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate and finance these heinous acts in Syria,” Trump said. “I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.”
The announcement of sanctions comes a week after Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, opening the door for Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-held areas.
Turkey says it plans to clear a “safe zone” of Kurdish militants it sees as terrorists during its military operation, making space to house the millions of Syrian refugees it hosts.
But criticism from both Trump’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.
Human rights monitors in Syria claim Turkish assaults have focused on the killing of unarmed Kurdish civilians and have displaced thousands.
Trump said Monday that Turkey must begin prioritizing the protection of these civilians, adding that he had spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and said his country’s actions are “precipitating a humanitarian crisis” and are “setting conditions for possible war crimes.”
“Indiscriminate targeting of civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure and targeting of ethnic or religious minorities is unacceptable,” Trump said. “Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian acts of its invasion.”
The fighting has also opened the floodgates for fleeing terrorists to find refuge in sympathetic countries. Hundreds of ISIS fighters have escaped holding camps during the Turkish assault, which experts say could lead to a resurgence of the extremist group, months after Trump declared it defeated.
Some U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria will now redeploy and remain in the region to prevent the threat of ISIS and other terrorist groups from spreading through the Middle East. Another group of troops will remain in the southern part of Syria, near the country’s border with Jordan, to continue fighting ISIS.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that American troops had little choice but to withdrawal from the region, after Erdoğan told Trump last week he would begin an invasion of Syria. Esper also said while the Kurds have been good partners, “we didn’t sign up to fight the Turks on their behalf.”
Many lawmakers have voiced their displeasure at the removal of troops from the region, including loyal supporter Senator Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who last week called the decision “shortsighted” and “irresponsible.”
Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement that the move was another haphazard approach to policy by tweet.
“The only beneficiaries of this action are ISIS, Iran and Russia,” Menendez said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the first order of business for lawmakers returning from recess this week is reversing the president’s decision to leave the region. Schumer said Republicans and Democrats needed to work together to get the decision reversed.
“We have entered a dangerous moment, as it is increasingly clear to all, including many Republicans in Congress, that the president’s erratic decision-making has endangered our national security and the security of our allies around the world,” Schumer said in a statement.