President Donald Trump is set to authorize sanctions against Turkey over its operation in northern Syria against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
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The executive order, which was announced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, warns Turkey that if it crosses certain lines it will provoke U.S. economic penalties.
Trump has called for negotiations between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the YPG, but Turkey rejected that idea Friday, saying it does not negotiate with forces it considers terrorists.
(MORE: What you need to know about Turkey’s push into Syria)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes a question from a reporter after announcing the threat of sanctions on Turkey in the Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.
Turkey says these Kurdish forces are affiliated with the PKK, a Kurdish group in Turkey that the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization. The U.S. armed and supported PKK as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which served as American foot soldiers against ISIS. The Trump administration now says there is a “legitimate” terrorist threat to Turkey in PKK’s ranks.
After a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last Sunday, the U.S. moved some of its forces back from the border and from SDF ranks.
(MORE: ‘They abandoned us’: Commanding general of US-allied Kurdish forces rails against US plans to pull back from Syria)
A senior Turkish official denied that the U.S. gave the Turkish government a green light for the operation.
“I don’t think that any country needs a green light from anyone for an operation to be conducted to ensure the well-being and safety and security of its population, territory, and forces,” the official said.
The official commended Trump as a “visionary person” because “he knew the threat imposed on Turkey by the terrorist group, so he took the decision to remove U.S. forces from the area.”
Trump has vacillated on Syria after fierce criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers over his decision.
(MORE: GOP leaders disagree with Trump’s Syria decision, Sen. Paul stands with the president)
Mnuchin called the executive order “very significant” and “any person associated with the government of Turkey, any portion of the government” could be targeted.
The Treasury said in a statement that the U.S. would hit Turkey with economic penalties for indiscriminate targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure and ethnic or religious minorities and for any action that disrupts the SDF’s counter ISIS operations.
Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images, FILE
Civilians ride a pickup truck as smoke billows following Turkish bombardment in the northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in Syria’s Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on Oct. 9, 2019.
The SDF already halted its ISIS operations on Wednesday, saying it could not fight Turkey and ISIS at the same time. The U.S. and its global coalition against ISIS have also effectively ceased operations, according to a U.S. official.
It’s also unclear what, if any, effect the threat of sanctions will have. Trump had already vowed to “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey,” but the operation moved ahead anyway.
Trump tasked the State Department with working to find a cease-fire and negotiate a settlement between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, but Turkey rejected that idea Friday, saying the operation would be halted only if Syrian Kurdish forces vacated the area and put down their weapons.
“We cannot tolerate the development of a terror corridor on the southern border of Turkey,” a senior Turkish official said. “We do not want to lose an additional thousands of Turkish citizens at the hands of PKK as a result of the terror corridor in the making on the other side of our border with Syria.”