ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that President Donald Trump is focused on the developing situation in Turkey and that they will be meeting with the National Security Council Sunday, as reports of thousands of displaced citizens and escaped Islamic State fighters emerge.
“We are ready to go at a moment’s notice to put on sanctions,” Mnuchin said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “These sanctions could be starting small, they could be maximum pressure, which would destroy the Turkish economy.”
A senior U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that the U.S. is withdrawing its troops from northeast Syria. A second official said that the Pentagon is working to convince Trump to keep a residual U.S. force in Syria.
Trump tweeted on Sunday that it was, “Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border.”
Mnuchin echoed the president on “This Week,” emphasizing that his goal is to get troops out of Syria and end “long-standing wars.”
“I think the analogy that everybody’s saying is, we’re abandoning the Kurds, like the Kurds are these longstanding allies,” he said. “Our role in Syria was not to defend land for the Kurds in historical issues. Our focus was to defeat ISIS.”
On Friday, Mnuchin announced that Trump had signed an executive order that would allow the Treasury Department to activate “very significant” sanctions against “any person associated with the government of Turkey,” if the country crosses certain lines in its operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Those economic penalties have not yet been activated, but in a statement, the Treasury Department indicated that the U.S. would sanction Turkey for any action that disrupts counter Islamic State operators and indiscriminate targeting of civilians or ethnic and religious minorities.
Mnuchin said on Sunday that the executive order authorizes sanctions that could go as far as shutting down all U.S. dollar transactions with the Turkish government.
Republicans on Capitol Hill, including some of Trump’s allies, have expressed outrage at the decision to have U.S. forces in Syria stand aside for Turkey’s military operation.
He also responded to criticism on the situation by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who told Axios on Thursday, “I think he’s putting the nation at risk. … If I hear the president say one more time, ‘I made a campaign promise to get out of Syria,’ I’m going to throw up.”
“Lindsey and the president are close. This is obviously an issue that they don’t agree on,” Mnuchin said Sunday, adding that the administration’s “number one issue” is defeating ISIS.
Late Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that he was working with Congress on sanctions.
Graham replied on Twitter that it was a “good decision” by the president to work with Congress “to impose crippling sanctions” against Turkey’s “outrageous aggression/war crimes in Syria.”
On “This Week” Sunday, the treasury secretary also addressed “phase one” of a trade deal with China that was announced on Friday. He said that the deal touched on “very substantial” issues like intellectual property and financial services.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I am confident that both sides will work very hard and anticipate we will be closing this,” he added.
When asked about Trump’s telling reporters two weeks ago that China should investigate Biden, Mnuchin said the administration had “never” had any discussions on investigating the Bidens in the trade meetings.
“People who are trying to imply that the president is asking for things or quid pro quos — I think this is ridiculous,” he said.
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