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Turkey Boosts Tariffs Amid US Feud

Turkey on Wednesday announced tariff hikes on a range of U.S. goods in the latest back-and-forth move amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries.

The extra tariffs apply to imports of vehicles, alcohol, coal, rice and cosmetics.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter the increases were being done “within the framework of the principle of reciprocity in retaliation for the conscious economic attacks by the United States.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accusing the United States of waging a targeted economic war on his country, and on Tuesday he proposed a boycott of U.S. electronic goods.

“If they have the iPhone, there is Samsung elsewhere. In our own country we have Vestel,” said Erdogan.

Asked how U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration would react to any such Turkish boycott, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied during Tuesday afternoon’s briefing, “I certainly don’t have a policy announcement on that at this point.” 

Trump administration sources say further sanctions against Turkey are under active consideration. But Sanders declined to say how the U.S. government plans to apply more pressure on Ankara, which repeatedly has ignored calls from Trump and others to free Christian pastor Andrew Brunson. 

Turkey accuses Brunson of espionage and is holding him under house arrest pending his trial. 

The chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Turkey, Jeffrey Hovenier, visited Brunson on Tuesday and called for his case — and those of others detained in Turkey — to be resolved “without delay” and in a “fair and transparent manner.”

National Security Adviser John Bolton met at the White House on Monday with Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic, but the discussion reportedly did not result in any substantive progress.

Trump, who has called Brunson’s detention a “total disgrace,” last Friday doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports in order to increase pressure on Erdogan. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Turkey’s ministers of Justice and Interior in response to the continued detention of the pastor, who has lived in the country for 20 years and heads an evangelical congregation of about two dozen people in the port city of Izmir. 

The escalating dispute between the two countries has exacerbated Turkey’s economic crisis, pushing the lira to record lows. The Turkish currency has lost about 40 percent of its value this year against the U.S. dollar.

Erdogan has called on Turks to exchange their dollars for lira in order to shore up the domestic currency.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Turkish business groups called on the government to institute tighter monetary policy in order to combat the currency crisis. They also said Turkey should work to resolve the situation with the United States diplomatically while also improving relations with another major trading partner, the European Union.

The Turkish central bank has pledged to take “all necessary measures” to stabilize the country’s economy to make sure the banks have all the money they need. But world stock traders were dismayed the bank did not raise interest rates, which is what many economists believe is necessary to ease the crisis.

The United States and Turkey also have diverging interests over Syria, which is enmeshed in a protracted civil war. 

The differences are drawing Turkey closer to Russia, they key adversary of NATO but a country supplying more than half of Turkey’s gas.

Turkey has agreed to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, an unprecedented move by a NATO member, which has raised objections from members of both parties of the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration. 

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, voiced support for Turkey during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Tuesday, stating both countries plan to switch from dollars to national currencies for their mutual trade.

“We view the policy of sanctions as unlawful and illegitimate, driven mostly by a desire to dominate everywhere and in everything, dictate policies and call shots in international affairs,” said Lavrov, predicting “such a policy can’t be a basis for normal dialogue and can’t last long.

Lavrov, alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, also declared, “We are at a turning point, without exaggeration, in world history” from dominance by a single power toward a multipolar environment. 

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