ANKARA – Former Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake officially became U.S. ambassador to Turkey on Wednesday at a critical time for the NATO allies, after presenting his letter of confidence to President Tayyip Erdogan.
A vocal critic of former U.S. President Donald Trump during his 2013-2019 tenure in the Senate, Flake arrived in Ankara earlier this month to succeed David Satterfield, who is now U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.
He starts the job as NATO members and other Western states mull responses to Russia in the event of military action against Ukraine. Ankara is close to Kyiv and Moscow, has offered to mediate the crisis, and opposes sanctions against Russia.
Relations between Washington and Ankara have soured in the past few years over issues such as Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 systems, judicial and civil rights cases, and policy differences in Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.
After Trump and Erdogan had warm personal ties, President Joe Biden has taken a cooler approach towards Turkey. One of his first steps in the White House was recognising the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide – a position that infuriated Turkey.
The governments have since looked to set differences aside and are in talks over the conflicts in Libya, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, where Turkey is discussing potentially operating Kabul’s international airport with Qatar.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)