US President Donald Trump on Monday threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy if Ankara took any action he considered “off-limits” following his decision to withdraw US forces from northeastern Syria.
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” Trump tweeted.
The withdrawal, announced by the White House late Sunday, was swiftly condemned by a bipartisan group of politicians over concerns that it could open the way for a Turkish attack on Kurdish-led forces long allied with Washington.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is usually vocally supportive of Trump, said the decision is a “disaster in the making”.
Graham said he planned to introduce a resolution calling on the White House to reverse its decision. He also threatened legislation to impose economic sanctions on Turkey. He predicted such legislation would be veto-proof.
The US withdrawal marks a major shift in US policy and effectively abandons an American ally in the battle against ISIL, which took over swaths of Syria before being defeated a year ago.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) warned that Turkish invasion will overturn the victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group. The group said he viewed Trump’s decision as a “stab in the back“.
Trump had defended his decision earlier on Monday, saying it was too costly to keep supporting his allies.
“The Kurds fought with us but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”
Trump repeated that comment later on Monday, tweeting, “it is now time for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory”.
Following the developments, the Turkish lira slid to its lowest level in more than a month against the dollar.
Investors have been closely watching tense ties between Ankara and Washington in recent months, with the NATO allies at odds over a range of issues, including policy differences in Syria and Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defence systems.
Turkey previously warned it would carry out military operations east of the Euphrates River, but put its plans on hold after agreeing with the US to create a “safe zone” inside Syria’s northeast border with Turkey, which would be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) armed group.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara and Washington consider the PKK a “terrorist” group but they diverge on the issue of the YPG, which forms the core of US-backed Syrian forces against ISIL.
The lira declined more than 1.6 percent, trading at 5.795 to the dollar at 16:00 GMT, after closing at 5.7000 on Friday. Earlier, it slipped as far as 5.8195, its weakest level since September 3.
“While the statement from the United States gives a green light to the military operation in Syria that Turkey has mentioned for a long time, it leaves many question marks regarding how the process will develop,” said a foreign exchange trader, who did not want to be named.
Turkey’s dollar bonds also fell, with the 2038 issue down 1.3 cents.
The Turkish lira is down about eight percent this year. Last year, it lost nearly 30 percent against the dollar over concerns about political interference with monetary policy, as well as a deterioration in diplomatic relations between Washington and Ankara over the fate of US pastor Andrew Brunson, whom Turkey had detained on terrorism charges. Brunson was released from Turkish custody last October.