WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the United States was “going to try to work it out” with Turkey regarding its assault into northeastern Syria, but U.S. sanctions would be “devastating” if discussions with Ankara do not go well.
“We’re in a great position,” Trump told reporters at the White House hours before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was due to depart for talks in Ankara along with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I think they’ll have a successful meeting,” Trump said at a news conference alongside Italian President Sergio Mattarella. “If they don’t, the sanctions, tariffs other things that we’re doing – will do and are doing – to Turkey will be devastating to Turkey’s economy.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department had given Pompeo and Pence a list of additional sanctions that could be imposed unless Turkey ended its assault.
The sanctions could target more Turkish ministers, ministries or industries, he said without providing details.
“We have very broad authority on these sanctions,” Mnuchin told reporters. “If we had not issued the general license, we would have shut off all energy in Turkey. It’s harder to get more direct than that.”
Trump has been on the defensive since his abrupt decision announced last week to withdraw forces from northeastern Syria where they had been supporting Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State and deterring any Turkish move into the area.
Ankara says the Kurds that had been backed by the United States are terrorists linked to Kurdish separatists inside Turkey, and has vowed to press on with its assault regardless of any sanctions.
U.S. lawmakers, including Trump’s fellow Republicans, have been fiercely critical of what they see as the president’s hasty handling of the situation following Trump’s phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday.
Trump on Wednesday said he did not give Erdogan a “green light” to push into northeastern Syria. The Turkish leader had long been planning such a move, Trump said, adding that he did not want U.S. forces in harm’s way.
European allies have also criticized the move and called on Turkey to halt its operations.
Mattarella, standing alongside Trump in the White House, said he had discussed the situation with the U.S. president and that Italy condemns the Turkish offensive.
Mnuchin said Pompeo and Pence would discuss with Erdogan the additional sanctions facing Turkey unless Ankara instituted a ceasefire, and said Trump had made it very clear that he expected Turkey to stop its incursion into Syria.
He rejected criticism that the sanctions were weaker than those proposed by lawmakers, and said certain provisions of a bill advanced by Senator Lindsey Graham had already been incorporated in the Treasury measures.