(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump gave his administration authority to impose new sanctions on Turkey but isn’t moving ahead with them yet, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
“We are putting financial institutions on notice that they should be careful and that there could be sanctions,” Mnuchin said Friday at the White House. “These are very powerful sanctions, we hope we don’t have to use them, but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.”
The move comes as Trump defends his decision to pull back some U.S. forces in northern Syria, which cleared the way for Turkey to send its troops into the country and attack American-allied Kurdish militias.
“It is a situation that we’re all concerned about,” Mnuchin said. He said he wasn’t aware of any change in plans for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to visit the White House in November.
Trump has come under sharp criticism from Republican lawmakers, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for stepping back from the Kurds. Graham called Trump’s decision to pull troops out of northern Syria the “biggest blunder of his presidency.”
Graham said Friday that the White House action isn’t “appropriate for the threat we face,” and the Trump administration needs to do more to protect Kurdish allies.
“The conditional sanctions announced today will be viewed by Turkey as a tepid response and will embolden Erdogan even more,” Graham said in a statement. “The Turkish government needs to know Congress will take a different path – passing crippling sanctions in a bipartisan fashion.”
Trump is signing an executive order allowing the U.S. to sanction individuals and entities in Turkey involved in human rights “abuses or actions leading to the further deterioration of peace, security, and stability in northeastern Syria,” according to the Treasury Department.
Turkey’s cross-border military offensive has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of “terrorists” since it began on Wednesday, according to Turkey’s military.
Trump defended his decision on withdrawing troops by saying the U.S. can’t afford to be stuck in “ridiculous endless wars.”
Specialists on sanctions said the administration already had the power to sanction Turkey and that the Friday announcement appeared to be a publicity stunt.
“It’s only after Congress ordered the administration to put sanctions on Turkey they’ve put in place a more specific mechanism to do so,” said Daniel Tannebaum, a partner at Oliver Wyman in New York.
(Updates with Graham comments beginning in the sixth paragraph.)
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