By Ian Talley and Vivian Salama
WASHINGTON -- President Trump authorized sanctions and raised
steel tariffs on Turkey, while threatening more-powerful financial
penalties if Ankara continued a military offensive in northern
Syria launched after Mr. Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from
Mr. Trump also spoke separately with President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan of Turkey and Kurdish Commander Mazloum Abdi and urged them
to negotiate an end to the violence, administration officials said.
Mr. Trump, calling for an immediate ceasefire, tapped Vice
President Mike Pence and White House national security adviser
Robert O'Brien to lead a delegation to Turkey to seek a resolution
to the conflict.
The administration's first punitive actions against Turkey and
its effort to start talks came amid widespread criticism on Capitol
Hill that Mr. Trump's decision left Kurdish militias that had aided
the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State open to attack. Meanwhile,
Democratic and Republican lawmakers said they plan to speed through
their own sanctions package starting on Tuesday.
"I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey's economy if
Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,"
Mr. Trump said on Monday. "Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to
be mitigating the humanitarian effects of its invasion."
Administration officials said Mr. Trump wouldn't be willing to
send a delegation to Ankara on short notice if he didn't think a
ceasefire was possible. They pushed back on the notion that the
U.S. was responsible for the current chaos along the Turkish-Syrian
border, insisting that Turkey alone is to blame.
Syrian military convoys moved on Monday into towns along the
northern border with Turkey, emboldened by a newly forged accord
with Kurdish authorities. Syrian soldiers raised the national flag
in Ain Eissa, a town north of Raqqa -- Islamic State's former de
facto capital -- where thousands of U.S.-backed fighters had
trained at a military base.
The administration has signaled that the U.S. could start with
sanctions that don't inflict much damage, but could then be ramped
up to a level that would cripple the Turkish economy, including
severing access to U.S. markets.
"The sanctions are ready when the president wants to move
forward on them," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC
earlier Monday, a day after he said the administration could levy
its harshest tool: shutting all U.S.-dollar transactions with the
Turkish government, as the U.S. has done with Iran and Venezuela,
The sanctions the U.S. Treasury imposed on Monday target
Turkey's Defense, Interior and Energy ministers and their
departments. The U.S. warned that any person or business doing
business with them risked also being blacklisted, including banks
losing access to dollar markets. Mr. Trump also said that the U.S.
would raise the tariff rate on steel imported from Turkey to 50%,
after lowering the rate from that level back in May.
The Treasury said it would issue waivers to ensure sanctions
didn't disrupt the entire country's energy needs, and will allow
officials and contractors conducting business for the U.S.
government to work with the blacklisted officials and offices.
The U.S. continued to withdraw military forces from front-line
bases in northern Syria on Monday after evacuating U.S. diplomats
overnight on Sunday, current and former administration officials
said. Mr. Trump said Turkey's military incursion threatens to
destabilize the region, risks jeopardizing a successful U.S.
campaign against Islamic State and deepens a widespread
humanitarian crisis, and sets the stage for possible war
The U.S. is "at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict,"
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. "Therefore, at the president's
direction, the Department of Defense is executing a deliberate
withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from northeast Syria."
"Turkey must immediately cease its unilateral offensive in
northeast Syria and return to a dialogue with the United States on
security" in the region to avoid suffering further sanctions,
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Monday.
Turkey's embassy in Washington didn't respond to requests for
comment on the sanctions.
The administration's threat to use it most potent financial
weapon -- banning Turkish banks from accessing the U.S. markets and
the world's most important currency -- risks imposing much deeper
damage on Turkey's economy than Monday's actions do. Mr. Trump also
said the U.S. will halt negotiations on a potential $100 billion
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they are preparing legislation
that could require the White House to impose tougher sanctions,
fearing Mr. Trump may not follow through with his threats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said she had spoken with
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) about putting together a bipartisan,
bicameral sanctions package that is stronger than what the White
House is considering. Mr. Graham, a close ally of the president who
has sharply criticized his decision to move troops out of northern
Syria, echoed Mrs. Pelosi's statement and wrote in a tweet that he
would move to "draft sanctions and move quickly."
After the planned Ankara talks were announced, Mr. Graham said
he had joined Mr. Trump on the calls with leaders in the conflict
and said officials should be given "reasonable time and space to
achieve our mutual goals."
The U.S. began repositioning some 1,000 troops in northern Syria
last week, and Turkish forces quickly moved into the area, battling
Mr. Trump said the forces being pulled out of northern Syria
would be redeployed throughout the region, with a small contingent
left in the southern Syrian garrison of Tanf.
Mr. Trump has come under intense criticism from lawmakers,
including from his own party, for rejecting warnings that Ankara
would likely prosecute a war against the Kurdish population in
northern Syria if Washington pulled U.S. troops from the
Mr. Trump's previous expressions of a degree of sympathy toward
Mr. Erdogan's decision to invade Syria have also fueled lawmakers'
concerns. Many national-security experts, Trump critics and others
fear the Turkish assault could result in large-scale civilian
deaths and human-rights abuses, give Islamic State room to regain a
footing and undermine years of U.S. efforts to break Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad's grip on the country.
In tweets earlier Monday, Mr. Trump defended his decision to
withdraw U.S. forces, and that he didn't object to geopolitical
foes of the U.S. stepping in. "Anyone who wants to assist Syria in
protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China,
or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles
Turkey's government, banks and firms aren't the only entities at
risk from U.S. sanctions. Other banks and businesses outside the
country, including in the U.S. and Europe, could also face U.S.
penalties under the sanction powers the administration said it is
prepared to impose.
France's government over the weekend said it is suspending
transfers of weapons and other military items that could be used by
Turkey in its Syria offensive, according to a statement issued by
the Defense Ministry. German media reported Berlin is doing the
Meanwhile, the European Union on Monday said it would set up a
sanctions regime targeting companies and individuals involved in
Turkey's "illegal drilling activity of hydrocarbons," after Turkey
started offshore natural-gas-drilling activities off the coast of
Cyprus this month.
Former senior U.S. Treasury officials say the White House could
have long ago also levied hefty and damaging fines on a state-owned
bank found to have facilitated billions of dollars of sanctions
evasion during the previous administration's Iran pressure
campaign, but has yet to act. The White House has also been
criticized for deferring sanctions against Turkey for Ankara's
purchase of Russia's S-400 missile-defense system. Weapons experts
say that system could compromise U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty
Turkish markets appear to have been pricing in the risk of U.S.
sanctions taking a toll on the economy. The lira's value against
the dollar fell nearly 2% Monday from its high on Friday, when the
administration unveiled plans for new Turkish sanctions.
--Alex Leary, Nancy A. Youssef and Andrew Duehren in Washington
and Laurence Norman in Brussels contributed to this article.
Write to Ian Talley at firstname.lastname@example.org and Vivian Salama at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 14, 2019 21:00 ET (01:00 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.