US senators propose tough sanctions on Turkey unless it leaves Syria
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US senators propose tough sanctions on Turkey unless it leaves Syria

Bipartisan bill would freeze assets of top Turkish leaders, sanction firms that work with country’s military; Norway suspends arms exports

A picture taken in Akcakale at the Turkish border with Syria on October 10, 2019 shows smokes rising from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after a mortar landed in the garden of a Turkish government building in Akcakale. (BULENT KILIC / AFP)
A picture taken in Akcakale at the Turkish border with Syria on October 10, 2019 shows smokes rising from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after a mortar landed in the garden of a Turkish government building in Akcakale. (BULENT KILIC / AFP)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of US senators said Wednesday they have agreed on far-reaching sanctions to be slapped on NATO ally Turkey if its forces do not withdraw from neighboring Syria.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he and Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland are introducing legislation that would freeze all US assets of Turkey’s political leadership — including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his vice president and the defense minister.

It would also impose sanctions on entities that do business with Turkey’s military, or with oil and gas companies that service its armed forces.

Graham and several other US lawmakers are furious over US President Donald Trump’s sudden military withdrawal from positions in northern Syria, blasting the move as a betrayal of Kurdish forces who for years have helped fight Islamic militants, and as an effective green light for Turkey to launch its long-planned offensive.

“While the Administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support” for the measure, Graham said on Twitter.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland walks up the steps on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 10, 2019, after attending a briefing on election security. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sanctions would be levied immediately upon enactment of the bill, which requires a presidential signature.

It would remain in effect unless the administration certifies to Congress that Turkey is not operating alone and has withdrawn its forces from areas occupied during operations that began Wednesday.

“These sanctions will have immediate, far-reaching consequences for Erdogan and his military,” Van Hollen said on Twitter.

With Congress currently in recess, it is unlikely that any action on the measure would be taken before next week. The House and Senate are back in session on Tuesday.

Trump last year slapped tariffs on Turkey that threw the country’s currency, the lira, into a tailspin as the two sides were at loggerheads over the detention in Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Turkish soldiers stand at the border with Syria in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, October 9, 2019, shortly after the Turkish military operation inside Syria started. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Also Thursday, Turkey’s NATO ally Norway announced it was suspending all new arms exports to the country after Ankara launched the military offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

“Given that the situation is complex and changing quickly, the foreign ministry as a precautionary measure will not handle any new demands for exports of defence material or material for multiple uses… to Turkey,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said in an email sent to AFP.

She added that the ministry would also review all licenses for arms exportation that have already been issued.

Syria’s Kurds, who were the West’s allies in the fight against Islamic State group jihadists, were battling Thursday to hold off a Turkish invasion as thousands of civilians fled air strikes and shelling that deepened fears of a humanitarian crisis and raised international alarm.

Finland, which is not a member of the NATO alliance, announced on Wednesday the suspension of all new arms exports to Turkey or any other country involved in the fighting.

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