Sanctions never solved anything, says Turkey’s Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday that sanctions had never solved anything, as Ankara faces possible U.S. sanctions for its purchases of Russian missile systems and U.S.-sanctioned Iranian oil. 

Hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo penalised six Chinese firms for transporting Iranian oil and vowed that the United States “will sanction every violation of sanctionable activity,” Fox’s Bret Baier asked the Turkish leader if he feared Turkey would face penalties for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. 

“Sanctions have been avoided in the past,” Erdoğan said in response. “I for one know that sanctions have never solved anything.” 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said this month that the United States was considering levying sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems. Erdoğan attended a dinner reception hosted by Trump on Wednesday, but it was not clear if the leaders were able to hold talks. 

Baier asked the president about possible tensions between the United States and Turkey. “Since President Trump took office we have been enjoying close ties,” Erdoğan said, pointing to the two countries’ “long history built on very strong bonds”.

In regards to Iran, Turkey has bought Iranian oil for years, but is thought to have brought its imports of Iranian oil down to zero by the time its sanctions waiver expired in May.

Speaking to the United Nations’ General Assembly on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged U.S. troops to leave the Middle East. “Our region is on the edge of collapse, as a single blunder can fuel a big fire,” he said.

U.S. officials blamed Iran for the attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 15, which knocked out half the country’s production capacity and shook world currency markets. Baier asked Erdoğan if he also blamed Iran. 

“If we just place the entire burden on Iran it wouldn’t be the right way to go because the evidence available doesn’t necessarily point to that fact,” he responded. 

A New York Post op-ed on Tuesday described Turkish banks’ 2012-to-2015 oil-for-gold operations with Iran as “the biggest sanctions-evasions scheme in recent history”. The article also highlighted a U.S. lawsuit accusing a Turkish bank of financing the Palestinian group Hamas, which the United States designates as a terrorist organisation, and U.S. Treasury sanctions against 10 Turkey-linked entities on similar charges.

Baier asked the Turkish president about the article. 

“These allegations are more than wrong, all propaganda produced by FETO,” said Erdoğan, using the Turkish government’s acronym for the group it believes was behind the failed 2016 coup. “I don’t know who authored that article but I think this is very cheap.”

Erdoğan said Turkey had complied and would continue to comply with international regulations regarding terrorism, and asked when the United States would comply with Turkey’s concerns about FETO and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an armed Kurdish group Ankara sees as linked to a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria. 

Baier pointed out that next week marks the first anniversary of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 

“He interviewed me more than once. I know (Khashoggi) closely, and this happened in my country,” said Erdoğan, calling on Saudi Arabia to prosecute the perpetrators. “This is our responsibility. We can’t let this get away or else we won’t establish justice.” 

Baier asked Erdoğan if Turkey’s media crackdown since the failed coup -- pointing to 180 news outlets shuttered, 200,000 websites blocked, and at least 100 journalists in prison -- was just.

“You should talk as if you were a journalist and get your answer from me as a politician,” the president said. “These are imaginary numbers, there are not that many journalists who have been incarcerated.”