Erdogan vows to defy US ‘threats’ after lira crashes
President vows no concessions • Ankara eyes new allies • Iran slams US ‘bullying’
ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed yesterday to defy US “threats” over a detained pastor, showing no signs of concessions in a bitter row that has caused the Turkish lira to crash. Relations between the two NATO allies have sunk to their lowest point in decades over a string of issues including the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges, prompting the lira to hit record lows against the dollar.
The Turkish strongman also lashed out at interest rates, denounced them as a “tool of exploitation” which should be kept as low as possible. The embattled lira tumbled 16 percent against the dollar on Friday, falling further when US President Donald Trump said he had doubled steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey. “It is wrong to dare bring Turkey to its knees through threats over a pastor,” Erdogan said in the Black Sea town of Unye. “Shame on you, shame on you,” he said in remarks directly addressed to Washington. “You are exchanging your strategic partner in NATO for a priest.”
Trump announced the punitive doubling of tariffs on Twitter, with the White House saying the sanctions would take effect from Aug 13. In a second speech, this time in the Black Sea city of Rize, Erdogan ruled out any change in the country’s interest rates policy. “Interest rates should be kept to a minimum because they are a tool of exploitation that makes the poor poorer and the rich richer,” he said. “The country is neither crumbling, nor being destroyed or bankrupt or in a crisis,” he said, and added that the way out of the ‘currency plot’ was to boost production and “minimize interest rates”.
“I am asking you. What possible reason could there be behind the lira which was at 2.8 against dollar in July 15, 2016 to slide below 6 yesterday? During this period, Turkey has set records in its exports, production and employment,” Erdogan said. He repeated a long-standing plan to shift to trading in national currencies and said Turkey was preparing for such a step with Russia, China and Ukraine.
The nominally independent central bank has defied pressure over the last few weeks to hike interest rates in the face of high inflation and a collapsing currency. Erdogan has downplayed the currency crisis, urging Turks to convert any stashed-away gold or foreign currency into lira, thereby waging a “war of independence” against America. “If they have the dollar, we have Allah,” he said. Erdogan said high foreign exchange rates were being used as a weapon against Turkey. “We know very well that the issue is not the dollar, the euro or gold. These are the bullets, cannonballs and missiles of an economic war waged against our country,” he said. Ankara had already taken measures to respond and would continue doing so, he added.
In an op-ed published in New York Times, Erdogan warned Washington not to risk its relations with Ankara, saying otherwise it would look for “new friends and allies”. “Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy,” he wrote.
“Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives. Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies,” Erdogan added. In Rize, Erdogan said the US would pay a price by challenging Turkey for the sake of “petty calculations”, denouncing Washington for declaring “economic war on the entire world” and holding countries “for ransom through sanction threats”.
Writing on Twitter, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also accused Washington of an “addiction to sanctions and bullying”. Trump’s “jubilation in inflicting economic hardship on its NATO ally Turkey is shameful,” he wrote. “The US has to rehabilitate its addiction to sanctions (and) bullying or the entire world will unite - beyond verbal condemnations to force it to,” he warned.
Iran has also suffered a major tumbling of its currency this year partly over the reimposition of US sanctions after Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal. Erdogan had on Friday held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss economic and trade issues as well as the Syria crisis. The latest escalation between Ankara and Washington was denounced by the Turkish press, with pro-government daily Sabah saying “the currency attack” was no different from the attempted coup of July 2016.
Although the pastor’s arrest has soured already-fragile ties with Washington, Erdogan said there would be no letup in Brunson’s case, vowing: “We have not made concessions on justice so far, and we will never make any.” Erdogan also appeared to allude to a ‘deadline’ for handing over Brunson, although he did not name the United States as having set any such deadline or say precisely when it might have expired. “(They are) threatening, saying you will send (him) until 6 pm ... This is not some random country. This is Turkey,” he said.
In a separate opinion piece in the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey’s efforts to solve the crisis with diplomatic methods have been dismissed by the Trump administration, warning that Washington might completely lose Ankara as an ally. “The US runs the risk of losing Turkey as a whole. The entire Turkish public is against US policies that disregard Turkey’s legitimate security demands. Threats, sanctions and bullying against Turkey will not work,” he said. — Agencies
ORDU, Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses people in the Unye district during his visit to a flooded area in this Black Sea province yesterday. — AFP