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Trump hits Turkey with tariffs after talks to free US minister deadlock

Tracy Wilkinson and Don Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Following an impasse in high-level negotiations to free an America preacher detained in Turkey, President Donald Trump on Friday said he had ordered heavy tariffs on Ankara's export of steel and aluminum to the United States, a punitive move that deepened a growing political and economic rift with the NATO ally.

In a tweet, Trump said he had "just authorized a doubling" of tariffs against Turkey, upping those on aluminum to 20 percent and steel to 50 percent. The U.S. imports about $1 billion in steel and aluminum from Turkey, so the direct impact is not likely to be substantial.

But the ripple effects were considerable as the Turkish currency, the lira, plummeted on the news, pushing the country closer to a full-blown economic crisis, and dragging the euro down sharply Friday.

Without mentioning Trump by name, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, denounced the U.S. in a speech Friday in the Black Sea town of Rize. "They cannot use the language of threat and blackmail against this nation," he said. "Bullying this nation will get them nowhere."

Then he had a friendly chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his office said.

The tariffs would be imposed under U.S. regulations that target "imports from particular countries whose exports threaten to impair national security," White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement from the New Jersey golf resort where Trump has spent most of the last week.

"Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!" Trump tweeted. Turkey is a strategically located home to air bases that the U.S. military uses in its wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

Trump did not mention Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Protestant pastor from North Carolina who has been imprisoned or under house arrest in Turkey for nearly two years for his alleged role in a 2016 coup attempt. Trump previously has demanded Brunson's immediate release.

But the latest negotiations appear to have deadlocked. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan met with his Turkish counterpart for two days at the State Department this week, but the talks ended with no apparent progress. No further talks were scheduled but they weren't ruled out either, according to the State Department.

The Treasury Department last week blacklisted two senior Turkish officials it considers most responsible for Brunson's detention, and administration officials hinted at tougher sanctions to come.

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