Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has vowed to warn Turkey that future Russian arms purchases could trigger more sanctions if confirmed as US ambassador to the Middle Eastern country.
Flake, a Republican, also told a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that he would work to promote democratic ideals and human rights in Turkey, which detains more journalists than any country in Turkey. except China.
President Joe Biden appointed Flake, who supported Biden as president last year, to serve as ambassador to Turkey in July. If confirmed, he would be the first politically appointed to the post in 40 years.
Flake appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will later vote on whether to advance his appointment to the full Senate. He appears to have the support of Democrats and Republicans, including Utah Senses Mike Lee and Mitt Romney.
Flake’s appointment comes at a pivotal moment in the long-standing, complex and now strained relationship between the United States and Turkey. There are areas where the two countries are firmly aligned and areas where they strongly disagree.
Despite the United States’ unremitting efforts to meet Turkey’s security needs, it chose to purchase and fire-test the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, Flake said. The deal ran counter to commitments made by U.S. allies at the 2016 NATO summit and triggered Turkey’s withdrawal from the F-35 fighter program and the imposition of sanctions.
Flake has said he will constantly reiterate that eliminating the system is the way forward to lift the sanctions and warn Turkey that the purchase of more Russian weapons risks triggering new sanctions.
“At the same time, we should encourage Turkey to buy American defense items that maintain the interoperability of the Turkish army with NATO,” he said.
Flake said he was also troubled by Ankara’s “democratic retreat” and the negative trajectory in terms of freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly in Turkey. He said he would challenge Turkey to meet its national and international human rights commitments while pushing Turkey to respect its status as a NATO ally.
“I will continue, if I am confirmed, the practice of speaking the truth in power, of speaking frankly,” he told the committee.
Despite the challenges in US-Turkish relations, Turkey is an indispensable ally, anchored in NATO and acting both as a bridge and a buffer to an ever-changing region, Flake said.
“Our national interest is served when the United States and Turkey work together to address the very real threats to global peace and security emanating from Russia, Iran and elsewhere in the region within the meaning wide, “he said.
Flake served six terms in the United States House, from 2001 to 2013, before serving a single six-year term in the Senate. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he noted that his wife, Cheryl, had visited Turkey as a member of the Young Ambassadors, a song and dance group, as she was a student at BYU 30 years ago.
“When asked if I wanted to be Ambassador to Turkey, Cheryl replied, ‘I guess it’s your time now,'” he said. “I can’t wait to travel with her.”