US President Donald Trump spoke directly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday to demand an immediate ceasefire in Syria while announcing a series of punishments for Ankara that critics saw as an attempt to save face, The Guardian reported.
The US president’s conversation with Erdoğan was revealed by Vice President Mike Pence, who said he would soon be traveling to the Middle East. “The United States of America did not give a green light for Turkey to invade Syria,” Pence insisted to reporters at the White House.
But Trump’s announcement just over a week ago that he was withdrawing US troops, who had served as an effective buffer against a Turkish invasion, has been widely viewed as a historic foreign policy blunder and provoked an extraordinary backlash even from Republicans.
As the situation in northern Syria spiraled out of control and the White House scrambled to catch up, the president said he had issued an executive order to impose sanctions on current and former Turkish officials and was immediately freezing negotiations on a $100 billion US-Turkey trade deal.
Trump said he was also reimposing tariffs of 50 percent on Turkish steel – one of a series of measures taken last year to win the release of an American pastor from prison, which triggered a record-breaking 30 percent slide in the Turkish lira, sending inflation soaring and damaging living standards. In May, Trump scaled the tariffs back to 25 percent.
“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” the president said on Monday.
Erdoğan was quoted as dismissing such threats as “quips” on Sunday, while the country’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva called a possible European Union arms embargo “a joke.”
The Turkish lira slid 0.8 percent to its weakest position since May on Monday, but many traders and investors said in effect they would believe it when they see it, especially after US threats earlier this year to sanction Turkey over buying Russian S-400 missile defenses failed to materialize.