Congresswoman Liz Cheney is leading a group of 29 House Republicans that want to introduce the sanctions legislation.
“[Turkish] President Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria,” Cheney said in a statement. She also urged Turkey to behave like an ally if it wants to be treated like one.
Turkey must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria, who incurred thousands of casualties in the fight against ISIS and helped us protect the homeland. https://t.co/fPqmJryHZ4— Rep. Liz Cheney (@RepLizCheney) October 10, 2019
This comes after similar legislation had been introduced in the Senate by Republican and Democratic lawmakers Lindsey Graham and Chris Van Hollen.
US President Donald Trump has warned that if Turkey doesn’t “play by the rules” it will be slapped with sanctions, but at the same time hopes that the US can be a mediator between the Kurds and Turkey.
“We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” Trump said on Twitter on Thursday.
....We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2019
Can Selcuki, general manager at Istanbul Economics Research says it’s not the first time that the US leader has threatened Turkey with sanctions, but this time around they could actually be introduced:
“Now there is a bipartisan effort in the US to actually implement the sanctions. So if those were to be implemented then it would have serious implications for Turkey. Trump is in a difficult place with Congress, so, I don't know how much pushback he can do,” Selcuki noted.
Adding that if the US actually follows through with sanctions, “then we will enter a new era of Turkey-US relations and damage may be irreparable for a long time.”
The expert also pointed out that the US has set down red lines for Ankara that could lead to sanctions if not observed. They include civilian casualties and the continuation of imprisonment of Daesh terrorists, but it’s not just up to Trump to decide on the matter.
“[...] From Trump's point of view - if Turkey fulfils these both obligations - then there doesn't seem to be a reason for economic sanctions. However, Trump is not the only decider here. The Congress and the Senate seem quite resolute on implementing sanctions on Turkey. So, I think the outcome will be decided between - where Trump and Congress actually negotiate and where they standoff,” Selcuki shared his views.
Ahmet Evin, a senior scholar in Istanbul Policy Center and Professor at Sabancı University, in his turn, said that there is no coherent policy coming out of the United States at the moment because the issue that is occupying everyone is the issue of impeachment.
“Washington seems to be split with its own domestic issues and right now with regard to this particular thing - that the White House essentially is not only isolated from the Congress but it seems to be on the way to being isolated from some very important branches of the executive,” Evin explained.
According to the scholar, Trump’s decision to pull out troops from northern Syria has been met with criticisms in the Department of Defence.
“Pentagon is very disappointed in this situation - of leaving a vacuum and letting Turkey enter Syria under these circumstances,” Evin said. “There is considerable pressure from the executive branch and particularly from the Pentagon - that this is a mistake and it should be corrected.”
The US announced it was withdrawing its military from the area on Monday and on Wednesday Ankara launched the operation against the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led YPG militia.
Europe’s reaction to Turkey’s operation
On Thursday, the UN Security Council’s current five EU members - the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland, called on Turkey to stop its operations against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.
“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements,” they said in a statement at the UNSC.
But the Security Council meeting, called at the request of the European members, failed to agree on a statement condemning Turkey’s operation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has so far rejected any criticism of Turkey’s offensive, warning the EU against calling the operation an occupation or he will send some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts to Europe.
“There does not seem to be a particular concern on the part of Ankara - to take into consideration international reaction so far,” Professor Evin pointed out.
So to what extent can Europe respond to this situation? Professor Evin noted that at the moment, the EU has enough issues to deal with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker standing down at the end of the month and it doesn’t want to see a new wave of refugees either.
“Europe's priorities essentially are to prevent an influx of refugees - because that is essentially a destabilising factor and leads to support for nationalist, anti-EU regimes in many electorates. On the other hand, when confronted with a situation like this, the EU, and the larger European countries, are in fact compromising their principles and are seen as such which does not strengthen the moral conviction or the belief in the moral conviction of the EU either. There's a bit of a very serious, I would say, collateral negative effect on European politics,” Evin said.
“The main danger is regrouping of ISIS [Daesh]”
Professor Evin stressed that Turkey’s offensive can lead to the terrorist group regaining some of its strength.
“I think is the most serious collateral effect of this would be the regrouping of ISIS there. A token move by the Pentagon at the very end - just before the movement of troops - was to take the most dangerous ISIS [Daesh] prisoners along with them away from that 10 km zone. There are a lot of ISIS [Daesh fighters] not only in prisons there - which will not be guarded anymore because the YPG is leaving the area - but also throughout that area where some of these people escape without being noticed - and they're milling around there. So, I consider that, along with most of the European leaders, this the most serious consequence.”
Evin noted that these terrorists are not only a threat to Europe but also to Turkey.
“In the past, when the border was not controlled, there were a number of very bloody terrorist incidents in Turkey,” he concluded.
There are reportedly thousands of Daesh fighters in prison in northern Syria and there’s been international concern that captured militants would be able to flee, despite Erdogan promising that Daesh captives held by the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) will remain in prisons.
The Turkish President said the goal of Operation Peace Spring is to neutralise terror threats against Turkey and establish a safe zone in the area once it is cleared from the Kurdish forces. Ankara says that the YPG militias are the armed wing of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which it considers to be a terrorist organisation.
*Daesh (ISIS, ISIL, IS, Islamic State) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.