Trump said in a Sunday tweet that he’s dealing with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and others in Congress, including Democrats, about imposing “powerful” sanctions if Turkey does anything in Syria the U.S. considers off limits.
“Additional legislation may be sought. There is great consensus on this,” Trump said in the tweet. “Turkey has asked that it not be done. Stay tuned!” Graham, in a tweet, praised Trump’s “good decision” to work with Congress in responding to “Turkey’s outrageous aggression/war crimes in Syria.”
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
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said the U.S has full authority to impose sanctions quickly on Turkey that could include shutting down all U.S. dollar transactions with the country’s entire government — which is a step the administration may take.
“We are ready to go on a moment’s notice to put on sanctions,” Mnuchin said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “These sanctions could be starting small, they could be maximum pressure which would destroy the Turkish economy.”
His comment echoed that of Trump, who on Oct. 7 tweeted that “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”
Mnuchin said it is a “complicated, developing situation” that the U.S. is closely monitoring and that there have been conversations with Turkish officials who “know what we will do if they don’t stop these activities.”
Representative Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” questioned whether sanctions Trump has already threatened would stop the Turks. He said removing Turkey from NATO “needs to be considered.”
Still, the sanction threats come amid reports of atrocities already taking place in Syria, which was one of the criticisms of Trump’s decision to pull back some U.S. forces in northern Syria. Critics say Trump gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a green light to attack American-allied Kurdish militias, risking a resurgence of the so-called Islamic State and a slaughter of the Kurds.
Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” about videos circulating that appear to show the execution of some Kurds, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said if true, they “would be war crimes” — raising questions about whether talk of imposing economic sanctions may be coming too late.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted Sunday that as Turkish-backed fighters approach a Kurdish held city in Syria, 700 supporters of the Islamic State escaped and Erdogan’s forces were filming themselves “beheading Kurds.” He said U.S. troops “are at serious risk of being cut off & of coming under attack by enemy fighters.”
In response to that threat, Esper said on CBS that Trump has directed a deliberate withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria in advance of an expected increase in military action.
Esper said the U.S. learned in the past 24 hours that Turkey is likely to attack further south and to the west in Syria, and that Kurdish forces are looking to cut a deal with Syria and Russia to counterattack against the Turks in the north.
The defense secretary said he spoke with Trump on Saturday night, and that after discussions with the national security team, the president directed the start of the withdrawal of forces from northern Syria but not the entire country. Trump and Esper are scheduled to meet again on Tuesday.
Esper didn’t put a time frame on the action — nor did Trump on the potential for more sanctions.
“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper said. “We want to make sure we don’t put our soldiers in a situation where they could be killed or injured.”
There are roughly 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria, Esper said on CBS. He made it clear that if U.S. forces are attacked they will be able to respond because “we had the right of self-defense and we will execute it if necessary.”
Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who left the job last year when Trump suddenly withdrew most U.S. forces from Syria, said there’ll be a resurgence of the Islamic State if the U.S. doesn’t keep the pressure on despite Trump’s stated goal of stopping “endless wars” and bring troops home.
“We may want a war over; we may even declare it over,” Mattis said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “You can pull your troops out — as President Obama learned the hard way, out of Iraq — but the ‘enemy gets the vote,’ we say in the military.”
Read more: Mattis Warns Over ISIS as Trump Withdraws Troops: Syria Update
Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and an Air Force veteran, said on CBS he also thinks there will be a resurgence of the Islamic State and that Trump is putting U.S. national security at risk.
“We have left them to the wolves,” Kinzinger said of the Kurds. “And the message this is sending to our allies around the world I think is really going to be bad.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said House and Senate Democrats will call for a joint resolution that he expects to get bipartisan support urging the president to reverse his decision and do everything he can to protect the Kurds and prevent Islamic State terrorists from escaping.
Trump pushed back Sunday against the criticism, saying on Twitter that it’s “very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting.” He’s scheduled to have lunch with Esper on Tuesday.
Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change. Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made. Why are they not asking for a Declaration of War?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2019
In a separate interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Esper indicated that he believes Erdogan would have invaded whether the U.S. kept a contingent of troops at the border or not.
“They were fully committed to doing this regardless of what we did,” Esper said, adding that he would not have supported sacrificing troops in a military effort to stop Turkey.
“We are not going to war, another war in the Middle East, against Turkey,” he said.
(Updates with Schumer’s plan for joint resolution in 22nd paragraph.)
–With assistance from Jesse Hamilton and Steven T. Dennis.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Mark Niquette in Columbus at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Sara Forden at [email protected]
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