US threatens harsh sanctions on Turkish government over Syria campaign

The announcement came after defence chief Mark Esper warned of 'serious consequences' if Ankara did not discontinue its military intervention

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Friday that US President Donald Trump has authorised vast sanctions against Turkey that could be imposed by the US government.

Speaking from the White House Mr Mnuchin said that the US President "has authorised and will be signing a new executive order" giving the Treasury Department, in consultation with himself and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the power to impose "significant new sanctions" targeting "any person associated with the government of Turkey”.

In a statement, the Treasury Department said "given Turkey’s ongoing military offensive in northeastern Syria, President Donald J. Trump intends to sign an Executive Order to dissuade Turkey from any further offensive military action in northeast Syria, including but not limited to indiscriminate targeting of civilians, targeting of civilian infrastructure, targeting of ethnic or religious minorities, or targeting or other actions that undermine the continued counter-terrorism activities of the Syrian Democratic Forces."

The US government said "it is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape."

The new executive order will allow designating "individuals and entities of the Government of Turkey involved in human rights abuses or actions leading to the further deterioration of peace, security, and stability in northeastern Syria."

“At the direction of President Trump we will be targeting specific Turkish individuals or departments as needed,” Mr Mnuchin said.

“This is a notice to banks and other parties to be on notice of potential actions.”

On Thursday night US defence chief Mark Esper called his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, to urge Turkey to discontinue its military incursion into Syria, and warn of "serious consequences" on Ankara.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is seen at a news briefing held with French Defense Minister Florence Parly (not pictured) in Paris, France, September 7, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

"Secretary Esper made it clear that the United States opposes Turkey's uncoordinated actions as they place at risk the progress made by the Defeat-ISIS Coalition," a readout from the Pentagon explained.

Mr Esper also voiced "strong concern that, despite US force protection measures, Turkey's actions could harm US personnel in Syria," stationed in nearby areas.

The language used by the US defence secretary represented an escalation of previous warnings with the Pentagon saying Mr Esper "strongly encouraged Turkey to discontinue actions in northeastern Syria in order to increase the possibility that the United States, Turkey and our partners could find a common way to deescalate the situation before it becomes irreparable".

US President Donald Trump on Thursday offered to mediate between the Turkish and Kurdish sides.

"We have one of three choices, send in thousands of troops...hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds,” he tweeted.

On a phone call with reporters on Thursday, a State Department official said Turkey was making "a big mistake".

"As I said, we do understand their security concerns; we just think that they are making a very big mistake going at it this way.  This will not increase their security, our security, or the security of anybody else in the region," the official said.