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Middle East

Trump threatens to 'devastate' Turkey's economy over Kurds

media A handout picture released by the Turkish Presidential Palace Press Office shows Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) posing with US President Donald Trump during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 1, 2018. Murat CETINMUHURDAR / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

Turkey has brushed aside US threats to “devastate” its economy if it pushes ahead with a planned offensive against American-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria – instead reminding Washington of its commitment to a strategic partnership with Ankara. But does the US really have the power to inflict major economic damage?

In a tweet, Trump warned Turkey to refrain from attacking the Syrian-Kurdish YPG, which Ankara sees as terrorists, once the planned withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops takes place.

In response, Turkey’s Foreign Minister said Ankara “would not be intimidated”, while a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would “continue to fight” because it sees “no difference” between the YPG and jihadists from the so-called Islamic State group.

While the US troops have been largely successful in helping the YPG to put down Islamic State fighters in Syria, but pockets of jihadists remain.

Trump didn’t offer specifics on how his administration would go about hurting Turkey’s economy, which is already in crisis, but US sanctions have had an impact in the past.

Interview: Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States. 14/01/2019 Listen

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told RFI that while the notion the US could “devastate” Turkey’s economy may be an exaggeration, it should not be underestimated.

“The United States could deeply trouble the Turkish economy and trigger an exchange rate crisis as they did in August last year. This time the impact would be bigger because Turkey’s economy is going through a rough moment at a time when the government is also planning a military operation abroad,” Unluhisarcikli said.

It’s unclear where the US is at with the planned withdrawal – which came as a surprise to many, and led to the resignation of senior US officials – but some media reports say American troops have begun removing military equipment or “cargo” from an unspecified location in Syria.

In his tweet Sunday, Trump pushed for creation of a 32-kilometre “safe zone” on the Turkish-Syrian border, but little detail was given as to who would pay for or enforce it.

Decades-long partnership

Unluhisarcikli adds that diplomats behind the scenes have been working towards a cooperation deal.

“I don’t think this relationship can be disrupted in the short-run, so matter what the leaders say. Having said this, all the politicians in Turkey and the United States seem to deeply disagree on Syria. Turkish and American diplomats are currently working on a plan to find a middle ground, so in a matter of weeks or months, we may see a process of cooperation between the two sides on north-eastern Syria.

“Turkey and the United States have a history of cooperation - not only in the Middle East, but also in the Balkans, the Black Sea, the Caucuses and central Asia as well as on the broader security of the European continent.”

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