Trump says, could hit Turkey hard financially

NATO ally Norway suspends new arms exports to Ankara

Syrian Kurds protest the Turkish offensive against Syria during a demonstration in front of the United Nation Headquarter in Erbil, Iraq on Thursday. — AFP

PARIS/WASHINGTON — Norway, a NATO ally of Turkey, announced Thursday it was suspending all new arms exports to the country after Ankara launched a military offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

This followed a flurry of diplomatic barbs between Turkey and the global world, with US President Donald Trump stating that he is talking to 'both sides'. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg too called on Turkey to show restraint as its foreign minster replied to both US and France with defiance.

"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 defense 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.

Trump said earlier on Thursday that he was talking to "both sides" as Turkey pressed its offensive against US-allied Kurds in Syria, and warned Ankara that it would be hit hard financially if it did not "play by the rules."

"I am trying to end the ENDLESS WARS. Talking to both sides," he said on Twitter. "I say hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don’t play by the rules! I am watching closely."

Meanwhile, the Turkish lira weakened against the dollar on Thursday as investors fretted about negative international reaction. The lira weakened to 5.88 against dollar from a close of 5.8740 a day earlier. It weakened 0.5% on Wednesday when the operation began with air strikes.

The lira has come under pressure since the White House announced the withdrawal of some US troops from the Syrian region near Turkey's border. The subsequent military operation has drawn almost universal condemnation internationally.

Investors are concerned about proposed US sanctions on Turkey following the start of the incursion, including targeting Ankara's military transactions and US assets of President Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, however, warned on Thursday that Turkey would retaliate if the United States imposed sanctions. Ankara could face sanctions under proposals put forward by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and a Democrat colleague, which would target Erdogan and top officials.

He also accused French President Emmanuel Macron of wanting to divide Syria, after France criticized Ankara's military operation.

Turkey's offensive has left its European allies incensed, but they are scrambling to form a coherent response beyond refusing to pay for any new humanitarian crisis on their doorstep.

It complicates further any prospect of Ankara joining the European Union and threatens a migration deal between Brussels and Ankara that has slashed refugee numbers entering the bloc but which was under renewed pressure by new refugees trying to reach Europe.

"This is a recipe for disaster, be it for the Turks, the Kurds or us," said a senior European diplomat. "This Turkish intervention is a complete distraction that will open up a Pandora's box."

Even more pressing for Europe is the fate of its Kurdish ally and a potential resurgence of Daesh (so-called IS) militants, which the Europeans are especially sensitive to after several major deadly attacks in the bloc.

Also on Thursday, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio summoned the Turkish ambassador over Ankara's ongoing offensive, a statement said.

The ministry called for an end to unilateral actions and recalled that the only lasting solution to the crisis in war-wracked Syria was through the United Nations.

In an indirect fallout to Trump's decision to stand aside as Turkey sends troops into Syria has some Israelis wondering whether they too might eventually pay a price for his impatience with Middle East engagements.

Trump's Syria about-face was the latest in recent steps that have stirred discomfort within Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative Cabinet, which had previously seen itself and the Trump administration as marching in lock-step.

In a speech on Thursday, Netanyahu stressed Israel's self-sufficiency — a change of tone from his promotion in two election campaigns this year of his personal rapport with Trump and of a proposed Israeli-US defense treaty. — Agencies