US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who last week warned that the US would impose sanctions if Turkey proceeded with a military strike in northern Syria, said his office was presenting US President Donald Trump with retaliatory options, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“The sanctions are ready when the president wants to move forward on them,” Mnuchin said on CNBC. Treasury officials were to detail potential targets when the president’s national security team meets in the White House Situation Room on Monday, he said.
The administration’s sanctions plans are unfolding as pressure gathers on Capitol Hill for sterner action to punish Turkey. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had spoken with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina about putting together a bipartisan, bicameral sanctions package that is stronger than what the White House is considering.
Graham, a close ally of the president who has sharply criticized his decision to move troops out of northern Syria, echoed Pelosi’s statement and said in a tweet that he would move to “draft sanctions and move quickly.”
In his TV appearance, Mnuchin didn’t provide details on the options and said the administration was weighing several factors in making its decision.
“It is a complicated situation,” Mnuchin said, when asked if Turkey has moved further into Syria than initially conveyed to US forces.
“On the one hand we have Turkey, who is a full member of NATO and an ally with us, fighting the Kurds who have helped us on ISIS,” he said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “And obviously we are very concerned about the humanitarian issues, and we’re monitoring it very carefully.”
The US began repositioning some 1,000 troops in northern Syria last week, and Turkish forces quickly moved into the area, battling Kurdish militia.
Mnuchin’s comments appear to give Trump space to temper a US response, despite an earlier threat to use Treasury’s most-powerful financial weapon. Those sanctions would potentially freeze the assets of and ban access to US markets to any business or individual supporting Turkey’s military incursion.
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 US troops out of the region.
Trump has expressed a degree of sympathy toward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to invade Syria. Many national security experts, Trump critics and others fear the Turkish assault could result in large-scale civilian deaths and human rights abuses, give ISIL room to regain a footing and undermine years of US efforts to break Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on the country.
In tweets on Monday Trump defended his decision to withdraw US forces and said he didn’t object to geopolitical foes of the US 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 away!”
Over the weekend Mnuchin said the Treasury 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.
“We could shut down all US dollar transactions with the government of Turkey,” he said Sunday on ABC. “That is something at a moment’s notice the president could tell me to do.”
Former senior US 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. Targeting Turkey’s defense minister or other senior officials in Erdoğan’s cabinet or military would also be a warning shot, sanctions experts said.