Turkey on the attack over tariffs, with Erdogan warning Trump Ankara may seek ‘new friends’

Turkish leader advised country to show solidarity by converting gold or foreign currency to lira in a bid to wage a ‘war of independence’ against America

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2018, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2018, 10:30pm

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back on Saturday at US “threats” over a detained American pastor which has escalated tensions between the two Nato allies and piled pressure on the Turkish currency.

“It is wrong to dare bring Turkey to its knees through threats over a pastor,” Erdogan told a rally in the Black Sea town of Unye. “I am calling on those in America again. Shame on you, shame on you. You are exchanging your strategic partner in Nato for a priest.”

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he had doubled steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey, adding to pressure on its troubled economy amid a diplomatic row with Washington.

The Turkish lira tumbled 16 per cent against the dollar on Friday.

Turkey is at loggerheads with the US in one of the worst spats in years over the nearly two-year detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson and a host of other issues. But Erdogan urged Turks not to be panicked by the currency crisis, saying: “If they have the dollar, we have Allah.”

He also advised them to show solidarity by converting any stashed-away gold or foreign currency to lira in a bid to wage a “war of independence” against America.

“If there are dollars under your pillow, take these out. If there are euros, take these out ... Immediately give these to the banks and convert to Turkish lira and by doing this, we fight this war of independence and the future. Because this is the language they understand,” he said.

Brunson’s arrest in October 2016 soured already deeply-strained relations with Washington.

Erdogan said Turkey acted in accordance with the law, saying: “We have not made concessions on justice so far, and we will never make any.”

Trump has described Brunson’s detention as a “total disgrace” and urged Erdogan to free him “immediately”.

Earlier in an editorial in Saturday’s The New York Times, Erdogan said: “Attempting to force my government to intervene in the judicial process is not in line with our Constitution or our shared democratic values.”

Erdogan also warned that Ankara could start looking for “new friends and allies”.

“Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers that our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy,” he wrote.

“Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives,” he said.

“Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.”

In a tweet, Trump announced the doubling of the tariffs – in new punitive actions against Turkey, saying: “Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”

The White House has said the newly-imposed sanctions would take effect from August 13.

Erdogan downplayed the currency crisis in a speech on Friday, advising Turks not to be worried over exchange rate fluctuations.

He also said Turkey had alternatives “from Iran, to Russia, to China and some European countries”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif waded into the mounting row by accusing Washington of having an “addiction to sanctions and bullying”.

Trump’s “jubilation in inflicting economic hardship on its Nato ally Turkey is shameful”, Zarif wrote on Twitter.

“The US has to rehabilitate its addiction to sanctions [and] bullying or entire world will unite – beyond verbal condemnations – to force it to. We’ve stood with neighbours before, and will again now,” he warned.

Iran has also suffered from a major tumbling of its currency this year partly over reimposition of US sanctions after Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal.

Erdogan on Friday held telephone talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussing economic and trade issues as well as the Syria crisis.

The Turkish foreign ministry hit back at Trump’s comments, saying the “only result will be harming our relationship” and vowing unspecified retaliation.

Turkish media covered the latest tensions between Ankara and Washington, with pro-government daily Sabah saying on its front page: “the currency attack” was no different from the July 2016 coup attempt.

Additional reporting by Reuters