WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - Following an incendiary address by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, US President Donald Trump tweeted—while on vacation at his New Jersey golf club—that the US would double tariffs on the import of Turkish steel and aluminum.
Trump’s tweet sent the Turkish lira tumbling for the second time that day—leading to the loss of nearly 20 percent of its value within 24 hours.
Earlier on Friday, Erdogan denounced the sanctions imposed by the US on two Turkish ministers for Turkey’s failure to release an American clergyman, as “economic warfare.”
“The dollar does not bind us,” Erdogan told a crowd of supporters. “I call on everybody who keeps dollars, euros, and gold under the pillow to exchange that with our national currency,” he proclaimed, as he sought to halt the slide in the value of Turkey’s currency.
But the lira only fell further, to another record low—even as the Finance Minister, who is also Erdogan’s son-in-law, was announcing a new approach to managing the Turkish economy.
The Trump administration is demanding the immediate release of the US pastor, Andrew Brunson, whom Turkey arrested in the wake of the 2016 failed coup attempt, charging, incongruously, that the Protestant evangelical pastor was part of a group led by the Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, responsible for the abortive putsch.
However, even after a Turkish delegation visited Washington on Wednesday, Ankara remained adamant in its refusal to release Brunson—a position defiantly repeated by Erdogan on Friday.
Following Trump’s tweet, Turkey charged that the new tariffs violated the rules of the World Trade Organization, while Presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, sent out his own tweet: "No threat, blackmail or operation can discourage the will of Turkey.”
Late on Friday, Erdogan published an opinion piece in the New York Times, detailing Turkey’s grievances with the US and ending with a threat of his own.
“Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies,” the Turkish president wrote.
There was little criticism of Trump’s measures in Washington. Indeed, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered his support, tweeting, “I hate it came to this point, but President @realDonaldTrump really had no other choice.”
Erdogan has long dealt with the US in a high-handed manner, a former Pentagon analyst remarked to Kurdistan 24. “But he may have miscalculated in his apparent assumption that the US needs to maintain good relations with Turkey so much, that it will put up with almost anything.”
Marc Pierini, a former EU diplomat to Turkey and now a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told The New York Times that Ankara’s refusal to release Brunson seemed to reflect “a complete misreading of US policy by the Turks.”
Tensions between Washington and Ankara have been growing for some time, over a range of issues.
In May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on a bipartisan basis, grilled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over Turkey’s actions, essentially asking whether Turkey should still be considered an ally.
In that hearing, Sen. John Barrasso (R, Wyoming) described Turkey’s relations with NATO as a “troubled marriage.”
“Turkey has increasingly taken steps,” Barrasso said, “that undermine the NATO alliance, from cooperating with Russia to attacking the Kurds fighting [the Islamic State].” Barrasso then went on to cite Turkey’s plan to purchase a Russian air defense system, the S-400, which was announced in December.
Barrasso asked Pompeo about US strategy “to bring Turkey back to the NATO fold,” and Pompeo replied, “The trend is wrong, to be sure.”
Dr. Nicholas Danforth, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, anticipated the increased strains in US-Turkish relations, when Kurdistan 24 spoke with him last week, following the imposition of sanctions on the two Turkish ministers.
Danforth noted that tensions had “already escalated very dramatically,” and they “could continue to escalate.”
The dispute between Washington and Ankara had been elevated into “a matter of national prestige for both sides,” he said, while Turkey had made some “very defiant statements.” It could be “difficult for both sides to back down.”
Asked about the consequences of these tensions from a Kurdish perspective, Danforth replied that some Kurds in Syria “see a potential opportunity.”
“They feel that if the United States breaks with Turkey, conclusively,” it might lead Washington “to develop a closer relationship with them.”
However, Danforth also cautioned that a break with the US might cause Ankara to take “a much more aggressive approach on the Kurdish issue,” both within Turkey and, “quite possibly,” in Syria as well.