Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey for military offensive in Syria

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE on Monday said he would implement sanctions on Turkey following bipartisan backlash over his decision to greenlight the country's incursion into northern Syria.

The president said in a statement that the U.S. will target government officials in Ankara and “any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.” The sanctions include an increase on steel tariffs from 25 percent to 50 percent and a halt in trade negotiations with Ankara.

The Treasury Department unveiled the sanctions later Monday. They targeted the Turkish Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Energy and National Resources, as well as the leaders of those two agencies and the head of the Ministry of the Interior. 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE told reporters at the White House that the U.S. was prepared to issue licenses so that the sanctions do not deprive the Turkish people of their energy needs. 

“As we’ve warned all along, our desire is not to shut down the Turkish economy. Our desire is to see an appropriate response,” Mnuchin said. “These sanctions will be very severe on the Turkish economy. We can continue to ramp up these sanctions.”

The order leaves open the possibility of the Trump administration imposing additional sanctions on Turkey depending on its actions in Syria moving forward.

“Turkey’s military offensive is endangering civilians and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region,” Trump said in a statement. “I have been perfectly clear with President Erdogan: Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes.”

Turkey must commit to keeping ISIS at bay and prioritize the protection of civilians and religious minorities in northern Syria, Trump said.

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“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump said.

But he made clear in his statement and his tweets that preceded it that he was committed to withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria, a decision that set the stage for Turkey’s offensive and one that has drawn sustained criticism from Republicans in Congress.

The president said that a “small footprint” of U.S. forces will remain at Al-Tanf Garrison military base in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants of ISIS.”

The sanctions announcement is a nod to the groundswell of support on Capitol Hill for tough action against Turkey, though it's unclear if it will be enough for some lawmakers who are preparing their own legislation.

The announcement came after a meeting of national security officials on Sunday and of other key administration officials at the White House on Monday morning.

Trump has been bombarded with criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike since the White House announced eight days ago that U.S. forces would leave northern Syria, a move that set off a sequence of events that has led to bloodshed and uncertainty in the region.

Turkish forces last week moved into northern Syria, attacking the Kurdish forces that fought alongside the U.S. against ISIS. The offensive produced sobering images and video footage that circulated on social media over the weekend of women and children being killed amid the fighting.

Lawmakers and former military officials have asserted that Trump's decision to pull U.S. forces out of the region essentially gave Turkey a green light to move forward with its operation.

In an effort to turn back the Turkish offensive, the Kurds struck a deal to join Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces. The two had previously been on opposing sides of a bloody civil war, and Assad is backed by Russia.

Moments before announcing the sanctions, Trump tweeted that the U.S. should not be responsible for defending the Syrian border or protecting the Kurds. He suggested that Assad, China or Russia could be responsible for those roles instead.

Trump is expected to meet Monday afternoon with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSeveral GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (R-S.C.), one of the president's staunchest supporters but one of his most ardent critics of his Syria strategy.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE (D-Calif.) said earlier Monday that she and Graham had agreed on the need for a resolution overturning Trump's decision on Syria, as well as additional sanctions against Turkey.

Lawmakers have already introduced several pieces of legislation including sanctions against Turkey and a resolution opposing the administration's decision to pull back U.S. troops in northern Syria.