The United States has imposed sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior government officials in response to the country’s military offensive in northern Syria.
President Donald Trump also phoned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to demand an immediate truce.
Vice-President Mike Pence said he would travel to the region “as quickly as possible”.
The move comes after criticism of a US troop withdrawal from the region which some say gave Turkey a “green light”. The Turkish offensive, which began last week, aims to push the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the border region. Turkey considers the biggest militia in the SDF a terrorist organisation.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the measures, which singled out two Turkish ministries and three senior government officials, in Washington DC on Monday evening. The action taken was against Turkey’s defence and energy ministries, as well as the ministers of defence, energy and interior. The actions freeze their assets in the US and bans US-related transactions with them.
President Donald Trump has faced mounting pressure to take action against the US’s Nato partner, including from Republicans. President Trump wrote on twitter that he signed an order to also raise tariffs on Turkish steel to 50% and “immediately stop” negotiations related to a “$100 billion trade deal” with Turkey.
Vice-President Pence warned that the sanctions “will continue and will worsen unless and until Turkey embraces an immediate ceasefire, stops the violence and agrees to negotiate a long-term settlement of the issues along the border between Turkey and Syria”.
What is Turkey doing in Syria?
Turkish forces want to establish what their government describes as a “safe zone” in the area, to resettle up to two million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. Many of them are not Kurds and critics warn this could lead to ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population.
Kurdish-led forces have been a key ally of the US in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. They described the US withdrawal, which preceded Turkish action, as being a “stab in the back”.
There are fears the local destabilisation could risk a resurgence of the IS group, as thousands of former fighters and their relatives are being detained in northern Syria. Hundreds are said to have already escaped from one camp.
Facing immense pressure, Kurdish-led forces on Sunday announced a deal with the Syrian government for military support to help repel Turkey.
At least 50 civilians have been killed inside Syria and another 18 over the border in southern Turkey. Kurdish forces have confirmed the deaths of 56 of their fighters while Turkey says four of its soldiers and 16 pro-Turkish Syrian fighters have been killed in Syria. Up to 160,000 civilians had been displaced.
Source : Various