US threaten more sanctions as Turkey scrambles to reassure investors
WASHINGTON: The United States warned on Thursday that it would levy more sanctions on the troubled Turkish economy if Ankara does not release a jailed American pastor.
The announcement by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin deepened a dispute that has rattled financial markets.
“We have put sanctions on several of their cabinet members,” Mnuchin told President Donald Trump in a cabinet meeting.
“We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him quickly.”
Trump said Turkey, which has a political and military alliance with the US, had not been a very good friend to America, AFP reported.
Referring to imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson, Trump said “they have a great Christian pastor there, he’s a very innocent man.”
The threat comes as Turkey scrambled to reassure investors reeling from the crash of the Turkish lira.
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, addressed hundreds of foreign investors from the United States, Europe and Asia in a conference call in a bid to soothe the markets.
The lira has clawed back some ground over the last two days after losing almost a quarter of its value on Friday and Monday.
“Turkey will emerge stronger from these fluctuations,” Albayrak said.
Albayrak rejected seeking an IMF bailout. Erdogan often boasts of paying off Turkey’s past IMF debts in 2013.
The lira’s months-long slide has accelerated as a result of the diplomatic standoff with Washington over Brunson’s detention. A Trump tweet on Friday announcing a doubling of aluminum and steel tariffs for Turkey triggered the rout in the currency markets.
The lira, which earlier this week traded at well over seven to the dollar, held onto its gains during Albayrak’s discussion, trading at 5.7 against the American currency.
“We will turn this crisis into an opportunity,” said Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin after a cabinet meeting chaired by the president, saying measures taken so far had helped bring about a “rapid improvement process” over the last two days.
But Albayrak, who was appointed last month, will have a tough time restoring order to an economy plagued by high inflation and a current account imbalance.
The lira’s drop in value is certain to further fuel inflation, which is already near 16 percent.
Albayrak said there would be no concessions on fiscal discipline, adding: “We are targeting lowering inflation into the single digits as soon as possible.”
However, analysts are calling for a sharp hike in interest rates – which Erdogan adamantly opposes because it will put a brake on economic growth.
In an intensifying cycle of tensions with the United States, Erdogan has called for a boycott of US electronic goods such as iPhones and Ankara has sharply hiked tariffs on some US products.
He has also warned Ankara could start looking for new allies, as well as new markets.
Qatar, which has moved closer to Ankara since a boycott was imposed last year by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, on Wednesday pledged to channel $15 billion direct investment into Turkey in defiance of the US.
Analysts say Turkey is also likely to seek a more dynamic economic relationship with China and Russia, with whom ties have warmed considerably in recent years.
Turkey has also in recent days shown an interest in repairing ties with Europe after a crisis sparked by Ankara’s crackdown on alleged plotters of the 2016 failed coup.
Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron agreed in a phone call Thursday to foster trade ties, a Turkish presidential source said.
Albayrak spoke Thursday with his German counterpart Olaf Scholz and they agreed to “take steps in order to reinforce economic cooperation,” Albayrak’s office said.
Meanwhile, Turkish courts have moved to defuse other legal cases that have irritated relations with the EU.
An Istanbul court allowed the release of Amnesty International’s Turkey chair Taner Kilic Wednesday, who spent more than a year in jail over alleged links to the 2016 coup bid.
And the day earlier, two Greek soldiers held by Turkey since March for illegally crossing the border were also freed.