Trump threatens to double metal tariffs on Turkey
WASHINGTON — Following an impasse in high-level negotiations to free an American preacher detained in Turkey, President Donald Trump on Friday said he had ordered heavy tariffs on Ankara’s export of steel and aluminum to the United States, a punitive move that deepened a growing political and economic rift with the NATO ally.
In a tweet, Trump said he had “just authorized a doubling” of tariffs against Turkey, upping those on aluminum to 20 percent and steel to 50 percent. The U.S. imports about $1 billion in steel and aluminum
from Turkey, so the direct impact is not likely to be substantial.
But the ripple effects were substantial as the Turkish currency, the lira, plummeted on the news, pushing the country closer to a fullblown economic crisis, and dragging the euro down Friday.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the U.S. in a speech Friday in the Black Sea town of Rize. “They cannot use the language of threat and blackmail against this nation,” he added. “Bullying this nation will get them nowhere.”
Then he had a friendly chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his office said.
The tariffs would be imposed under U.S. regulations that target “imports from particular countries whose exports threaten to impair national security,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement from the New Jersey golf resort where Trump has spent most of the last week.
“Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!” Trump tweeted. Turkey is a strategically located home to air bases that the U.S. military uses in its wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
Trump did not mention Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Protestant pastor from North Carolina who has been imprisoned or under house arrest in Turkey for nearly two years for his alleged role in a 2016 coup attempt. Trump previously has demanded Brunson’s release.
But the latest negotiations appear to have deadlocked.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan met with his Turkish counterpart for two days at the State Department this week, but the talks ended with no apparent progress. No further talks were scheduled but they weren’t ruled out either, according to the State Department.
The Treasury Department last week blacklisted two senior Turkish officials it considers most responsible for Brunson’s detention, and administration officials hinted at tougher sanctions to come.
Brunson was arrested as part of a massive government crackdown in Turkey following an attempted military coup in 2016 that sought to topple Erdogan. Brunson, who had worked in Turkey for more than two decades, and the U.S. government insist he is innocent of all charges.
Tens of thousands of Turks were arrested in the same crackdown, including several Turkish-Americans and three Turkish employees of the U.S. Embassy. The Trump administration is also seeking their release.
Some reports suggested Turkey was trying to trade Brunson for Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania and whom Erdogan has blamed for the coup attempt. Gulen denies involvement, and the U.S. government says it has no evidence to justify his extradition.
Turkey also is seeking the release of a Turkish banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was convicted in a U.S. federal court in May on sanctions-busting charges related to the purchase of Iranian oil. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison.
Turkish authorities at the time suggested Atilla, deputy CEO of a major state bank, had been tried in a kangaroo court and that his prosecution was politically motivated.
Relations between the countries have been strained for more than a year.
Disputes include U.S. support for Kurdish militias fighting in Syria, groups that Turkey considers terrorists; Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons despite belonging to NATO; and the White House decision to transfer the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which Ankara opposes.
Turkey has resisted the administration’s efforts to isolate Iran, vowing to continue to do business with Tehran and import its oil, despite U.S. revival of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic since Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.
When Erdogan visited the White House last summer, he reportedly felt slighted when the Justice Department authorities again rejected his demand for Gulen’s extradition. His bodyguards later brawled with protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence, injuring several and creating embarrassing headlines.
Local police brought criminal charges against Erdogan’s guards, but eventually dropped the case. They had long since flown back to Turkey.
Trump has run hot and cold on his admiration for Erdogan. He has voiced praise for the strongman, calling to congratulate Erdogan on winning a referendum that vastly extended his authority, and that critics called unfair. At the June summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Trump was seen giving Erdogan a fist-bump greeting and mouthing the words, “I like him.”
The Brunson case has drawn vocal attention from U.S. evangelicals, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Brunson, 50, is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.