Earlier today Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held a press conference at the White House to announce a new executive order constructed by the Trump administration that would deliver economic sanctions due to Turkish activity in Northern Syria.
“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them. But we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,” Treasury Secretary Mnuchin tells reporters.
Additionally, Secretary Mnuchin notes there has been “significant progress” in the U.S-China trade discussions over the past two days. Vice-Premier Liu He is schedule to meet President Trump in the oval office at 2:45pm.
[Transcript] SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Hello everybody. So, I just met with President Trump, and he has authorized and will be signing a new executive order giving the Treasury Department, in consultation with himself and Secretary Pompeo, very significant new sanctions authorities that can be targeted at any person associated with the government of Turkey, any portion of the government. This will be both primary sanctions and secondary sanctions that will be applicable.
The President is concerned about the ongoing military offensive and potential targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, ethnic or religious minorities. And also the President wants to make very clear: It is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape.
Again, I want to emphasize: At this point, we are not activating the sanctions. But, as the President has said, he will provide very significant authorities based upon the continuing efforts.
So he will be signing this. They will be active. We will be working in consultation with the Department of Defense and Department of State to moderating this very quickly. We are putting financial institutions on notice that they should be careful, and that there could be sanctions.
Again, there are no sanctions at this time, but this will be the broadest executive authorities delegated to us.
Q When you spoke with the President, was there any concern about the actions he took that led to this? And can you tell us when would you put the sanctions in? What would it take for you to actually activate?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Okay. Well, on — no, I don’t think he thinks his actions are what led to this. It is a complicated situation. It’s a situation that we’re all concerned about, and the humanitarian situation. And there are very clear discussions that will be going on between the Department of Defense and the State Department. I just got off the phone with the Finance Minister, and we will be communicating specifics that we’re not going to telegraph here.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Can you give us an update on the China trade negotiations that are ongoing today?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I didn’t think anybody would be asking me about that. (Laughter.)
Q Could you give us an update on the China trade negotiations that are going on today? Is it possible that we get to the end of the day today with no new specific deals agreed to? Or are we definitely going to see something today?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Okay. So, I wanted to make sure everybody knew in advance I wasn’t talking about China, because I didn’t want to think I was calling a specific China meeting.
We have had productive two days of discussions. Ambassador Lighthizer and myself with the Vice Premier and others, we will be meeting with the President shortly. We will be updating the President on those. He’ll then be meeting with the Vice Premier. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like usual, he decides to invite a few of you in, but I’m not going to make any other comments in advance of us meeting with the President.
Q The stock market is very optimistic about what it sees over at the USTR’s office. Are they right to be optimistic?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: The stock market is always right. (Laughs.)
Q No, no. But is there — is there reason for optimism?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I’m not going to make any more comments. I’ve said we’ve had productive two days of discussions. We’ll be making more announcements after we meet with the President.
Q So far, Turkey has not been dissuaded by anything this administration has done or the President has said. What makes you confident that the announcement that you just made is going to change Turkey’s (inaudible)?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, I don’t — I don’t agree with your premise. I’m not going to comment on specific confidential discussions that have been going on on different levels. So, I don’t think that’s a good premise.
But, again, these are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them. But we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.
Q Mr. Secretary, how does the threat of these sanctions help these U.S. allies who say they have been abandoned?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, it’s a complicated military situation that is ongoing. There are discussions. I think the President has had very specific discussions. As I said, the Department of Defense — we have expectations. This is a way of making sure that we protect the humanitarian issues and the other people on the ground.
Q As far as you know, have any plans specifically changed about Turkish President Erdoğan still visiting the White House? Are things still in good faith?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I’m not aware of anything that’s changed. But, again, I’m not confirming that. I just haven’t heard anything one way or another.
Q Mr. Secretary, what kind of consultations are you having with lawmakers like Lindsey Graham, Senator Van Hollen — who have been really very critical of the pullout of U.S. troops from Syria?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Secretary Pompeo has been speaking to them daily. I’ve been speaking to the Secretary multiple times a day.
I think the message to Congress is — I know that people were contemplating sanctions. We’re on top of sanctions. The President will use them when necessary.
Thank you everybody.