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President Donald Trump has given his administration broad authority to slap sanctions on Turkey, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday.
Trump signed an executive order authorizing the powers, though the administration will not move yet to punish Turkish individuals or entities after the country's offensive in northern Syria. Still, Mnuchin threatened devastating actions in the wake of Turkish strikes that the U.S. has condemned.
"These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don't have to use them. But we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to," the Treasury chief told reporters.
Numerous members of Congress, including some of Trump's top Republican allies, have criticized the Turkish offensive that started earlier this week, saying it will lead to the slaughter of U.S.-allied Kurdish forces. The strikes followed the president's decision to pull troops out of northern Syria.
Senators, including Trump's key Republican ally Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, started to agitate for sanctions on Turkey this week. On Wednesday, Graham and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., announced what they called a "framework" for sanctions against the country.
It would in part put sanctions on top Turkish government officials and bar American military business transactions with Turkey.
"This unlawful and unwarranted attack against an American friend and partner threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of civilians, many of whom have already fled from their homes elsewhere in Syria to find safety in this region," the senators said in a statement Wednesday, referring to the Turkish offensive.
During a news conference Friday announcing the deployment of more forces to Saudi Arabia, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the administration's decision to pull troops from northern Syria. He said "we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces," who fought the so-called Islamic State alongside the U.S.
The Pentagon chief said, "We oppose and are greatly disappointed by Turkey's decision to launch a unilateral military incursion into northern Syria."
Trump has justified the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region by citing his campaign pledge to end "forever wars" in the Middle East.