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What Impacts U.S. Sanctions May Have On Turkey's Economy


Vice President Mike Pence is heading to Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pence wants a cease-fire in northern Syria. And President Trump is warning that if it doesn't happen, Turkey will face economic consequences.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think they'll have a successful meeting. If they don't, the sanctions and tariffs and other things that we're doing, we will do and are doing to Turkey will be devastating to Turkey's economy.

SHAPIRO: To explain whether these sanctions will devastate Turkey's economy, we are joined now by Soner Cagaptay. He is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Good to have you here.

SONER CAGAPTAY: It's a great pleasure.

SHAPIRO: The president has announced one round of sanctions, and Congress is talking about much more intense measures. So starting with the sanctions that the White House has already announced, what sort of impact do you expect those will have on Turkey's economy?

CAGAPTAY: It seems to me that the White House sanctions are staggered, first aiming at Turkish officials, which have been put in place. I think those are of symbolic nature. Turkey will likely respond in kind to those sanctions, targeting similar U.S. government officials in similar positions if President - Vice President Pence's visit does not go successfully.

But the next level of sanctions that the White House has in mind targeting weapons sales - or banning weapons sales and targeting Turkey's economy could be devastating - not if Turkey's economy was its usual healthy and running economy. But because the economy has entered recession in 2018 and has not really gotten out of it, it is very likely that economic sanctions could have a devastating impact on Turkey's economy.

SHAPIRO: And what about the sanctions that Congress is considering, which would be even more intense?

CAGAPTAY: Those would be even more broad, and I think those could potentially result to not only more devastating impact economically, but also politically, maybe rupture U.S.-Turkish relations. We're really at a time of brittle ties between Turkey and the United States. The two countries have been allies for over seven decades, but they have had sharp policy differences for the last two decades or decade and a half in two wars in two of Turkey's neighbors, namely Iraq, where Turkey wanted to do little and U.S. a lot, and in Syria, where U.S. wanted to do little and Turkey a lot. I think these differences have eroded confidence between institutions, at least in both capitals.

So dramatic sanctions against Turkey that could devastate Turkey's economy would be seen by broad sections of Turkey's citizenry as America's "attack against Turkey," in quotes. And I think they might help with consolidating the population around Erdogan, not necessarily undermining him.

SHAPIRO: I wonder if this makes Turkish officials nervous. The foreign minister says, no sanctions or threats are acceptable and will not affect our resolve. Do you think that's true? Or is Erdogan and his circle a little bit worried about what these sanctions will do?

CAGAPTAY: Look; as a nation that is borne out of the large and powerful empire, namely the Ottoman Empire, Turkey is generally a very nationalist country that responds in kind and quite fast to any sanctions. Some surprise that this time, they have not. I think Turkey is looking at Vice President Pence's visit as an opportunity in which to broker a political deal to avoid further sanctions.

SHAPIRO: If the goal of sanctions is to push Turkey towards a cease-fire, do you think it'll have the intended effect?

CAGAPTAY: I think the implication that the United States is considering to put economic sanctions which would devastate Turkey's economy could be enough for President Erdogan to consider a cease-fire. Perhaps that is the reason why President Erdogan earlier announced that he would not meet Vice President Pence today but tomorrow. Maybe Turkey needs one more day to gain some of its objectives in northern Syria before settling down for a cease-fire.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying this might be a very short, focused military mission and if Turkey has even just a week or two to accomplish its goals, that might be enough.

CAGAPTAY: Well, beyond U.S. pressure, there's also the issue of Russia. I mean, Turkey's relationship with the United States is riddled with tensions, but Turkey's ties with Russia are very different. And Russia is now deploying into areas that U.S. troops have vacated. Turkey is actually afraid of Russia, the country that happens to be Turkey's historic nemesis. Starting with Catherine the Great until Putin the Great, Russians have had a policy of bullying Turkey as the country's nemesis.

So I think that it is Russian military presence that will present a more realistic check on the ground, coupled with American threat of sanctions that - ironically, you could say that in this case, United States and Russia are both aligned from - coming from different angles in blocking Turkey's expansion into northern Syria.

SHAPIRO: That's Soner Cagaptay. His new book is "Erdogan's Empire: Turkey And The Politics Of The Middle East."

Thanks for coming in.

CAGAPTAY: It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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