Trump threatens Turkey's economy if Syrian Kurdish militia hit

US President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a US - allied Kurdish militia in Syria, weakening the Turkish lira and prompting sharp criticism from Ankara on Monday.
A Turkish military convoy in Kirikhan at the Syrian border last Saturday. Turkey has vowed to crush a US-backed Kurdish militia which it views as a terrorist group, but which has been a US ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria.
A Turkish military convoy in Kirikhan at the Syrian border last Saturday. Turkey has vowed to crush a US-backed Kurdish militia which it views as a terrorist group, but which has been a US ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ISTANBUL/RIYADH • US President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a US-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara yesterday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the Nato allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington's support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

Asked what Mr Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: "You'll have to ask the President."

"We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things," Mr Pompeo said, adding that he had not spoken with Ankara since Mr Trump's comment.

Mr Trump said on Sunday the US was starting the military pullout from Syria that he announced last month, but that it would continue to hit Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters there.

"Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20-mile safe zone... Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

 
 
 
 

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the US.

A diplomatic crisis last year - when Mr Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports - helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

The lira slid as much as 1.6 per cent to 5.5450 against the US dollar and stood at 5.52 yesterday evening.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Mr Trump should respect Washington's alliance with Ankara.

"Mr @realDonaldTrump it is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG," he wrote on Twitter.

"Terrorists can't be your partners and allies. Turkey expects the US to honour our strategic partnership and doesn't want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda."

Mr Trump gave no details about the safe-zone proposal, but Mr Pompeo said Washington wanted to provide security for those who have fought against ISIS and to prevent any attack on Turkey from Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was not against the idea of a secure zone along the border, but said strategic partners and allies should not communicate over social media.

"Nothing can be achieved by threatening Turkey economically. We need to look at how we can coordinate together and how we can solve this," he said in a news conference.

The Kurdish YPG has been a US ally in the fight against the militants and it controls swathes of northern Syria. Mr Erdogan has vowed to crush it in the wake of Mr Trump's decision to pull US troops out of the region.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'Trump threatens Turkey's economy if Syrian Kurdish militia hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe