Turkey 'cannot remain silent' over US sanctions, Erdogan tells the UN

  • Turkish President Recep Erdogan continued his underhanded criticism of U.S. foreign policy during the UN General Assembly on Tuesday while at the UN General Assembly.
  • U.S.-Turkish relations are at a low amid the diplomatic crisis over a detained American pastor, which has triggered sanctions and trade tariffs.
  • The governments of Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have become closer of late, and now have their shared anger at U.S. financial sanctions to bond over.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint press conference with Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. 
 Burhan Ozbilici | AP
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint press conference with Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. 

Turkish President Recep Erdogan continued his underhanded criticism of U.S. foreign policy during the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, likening financial sanctions — which America has placed on Turkish officials — to weapons.

Without directly naming the U.S., Erdogan told the assembly, "None of us can remain silent to the arbitrary cancellation of commercial agreements and the use of economic sanctions as weapons."

He was referring to Washington's asset freezes on two Turkish ministers in response to Ankara's continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson on spying charges, which Brunson denies.

"Nobody wants the world to experience a new economic rupture," Erdogan said. "It is very easy to create chaos but it's difficult to re-establish order, and today some countries are persistently trying to create chaos."

U.S.-Turkish relations are at a low following the diplomatic crisis, which has yet to be resolved despite multiple high-level meetings. Recent appeal hearings for Brunson have failed to clear his charges, and Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkish courts, and not politicians, would decide the pastor's fate.

August saw Donald Trump's administration announce a doubling of the steel and aluminum tariffs already in place against Ankara. Turkey responded in kind, placing tariffs on American cars, tobacco and alcohol. Erdogan called the U.S. penalties a "stab in the back."

Turkey's economy has taken a beating in the last year, with the U.S. sanctions providing added pressure on the badly-weakened Turkish lira, which has lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar in 2018. The country's currency has suffered thanks to investor fears over Erdogan's hold over central bank independence and his opposition to raising interests rates to adequately temper an overheating economy.

Ankara this month slashed growth forecasts for 2019 by more than half. The central bank raised rates on September 13, sending the lira upward, but myriad economic challenges remain, analysts say. One year ago this month, a dollar bought three lira; today, it fetches more than six.

Divisions between the two NATO allies have been deepening for some time. Turkey opposes Washington's support of Kurdish rebels in Syria, which it considers a terrorist group, and has long demanded the U.S. extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in Pennsylvania and who it accuses of supporting the 2016 failed coup against Erdogan. Ankara also announced it would not be cutting its imports of Iranian natural gas, defying impending U.S. sanctions on the country's energy sector after its abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal.

The U.S., meanwhile, has expressed alarm and frustration at Turkey's purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system alongside its purchase of American F-35 stealth fighter jets. The governments of Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have become closer of late, and now have their shared anger at U.S. financial sanctions to bond over.