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Trump gives US Treasury authority to issue 'powerful' sanctions against Turkey

'We can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,' says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
Mnuchin says powerful sanctions have not yet been activated (AFP)

US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order giving the Treasury Department wider authority to slap sanctions against Turkey and its affiliates, as Ankara advances into northeast Syria for the third day. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that under the executive order, the department is receiving the authority to issue "powerful sanctions" that he said could "shut down" the Turkish economy.

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"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," Mnuchin told reporters during a news conference.

"We are putting financial institutions on notice that they should be careful and that there could be sanctions," he said.

Mnuchin stressed that the sanctions have not yet been activated, but that Trump has given the approval to issue them.

"The president is concerned with the ongoing military offensive, and potential targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, ethnic and religious minorities," Mnuchin said. 

On Twitter earlier this week, Trump warned that he could "obliterate" the Turkish economy if Ankara were to do anything he considers "to be off limits". 

Mnuchin added that Trump wants to make clear that Turkey cannot "allow even a single [Islamic State (IS) group] fighter to escape".

In addition to the US, countries around the world have been vocal in their opposition to the Turkish offensive, with the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Canada among the countries that have spoken out against it.

Still, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he "will not stop" in his plans to carve out a safe zone in order to return the millions of Syrian refugees that Turkey has taken in since the start of Damascus's civil war.

"Now there are threats coming from left and right, telling us to stop this," Erdogan said, AFP reported. "We will not step back."

Outcry in Congress

The announcement comes in response to Turkey's launching of an offensive in northern Syria earlier this week against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a former ally of Washington in the fight against IS. 

The Turkish offensive has also led to an outcry in Congress, as some of its members announced legislation for sanctions targeting Turkey.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen gave on outline of their own proposal regarding sanctions against Turkey on Tuesday, saying that they would target Erdogan as well as other high-ranking members of the Turkish government.

Similarly, 30 House Republicans announced on Thursday that they would also introduce legislation that would slap sanctions against Turkey.

"President Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria," Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who is leading the House legislation, said in a statement on Thursday.

A representative from Cheney's office told Middle East Eye early on Friday that the congresswomen planned to introduce the legislation next week. 

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