Nominee for US ambassador to Turkey recognises Armenian genocide, warns of more sanctions

Republican Jeff Flake, who supported Joe Biden over Donald Trump, is the first political appointee to the position in 40 years

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Former Republican senator Jeff Flake, the nominee to become the next US ambassador to Turkey, has officially recognised the mass atrocities perpetrated against Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide, reversing his earlier positions on the issue.

Mr Flake answered with a resounding “yes” when the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, asked if he has changed his stance and is ready to “join this body and the administration in reaffirming the Armenian genocide".

While representing Arizona in both the House and Senate, Mr Flake voted against congressional bills making a genocide declaration in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2014.

President Joe Biden in April became the first sitting US president to officially recognise the 1915 killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide.

Mr Flake also addressed the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, describing Turkey’s role as destabilising.

“If confirmed, I will encourage Turkey to support efforts to find a sustainable long-term solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and encourage peaceful and diplomatic resolutions to disagreements in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.

People lay flowers at a memorial to Armenians killed by the Ottoman Turks, as they mark the centenary of the mass killings. AP

The nominee described Turkey as an “indispensable ally” for the US, but one that is presenting Washington with complex challenges.

“Our relationship also faces profound challenges. Despite the United States’ tireless efforts to address Turkey’s security needs, Turkey still chose to purchase and test fire the Russian S-400 [missile defence] system,” Mr Flake said.

The former Republican senator stressed that absent of Turkey disposing the Russian system, current sanctions and penalties under US law will remain and could escalate.

“I will also warn Turkey that any future purchase of Russian weapons risks triggering further Caatsa sanctions in addition to those already imposed,” he said, referring to the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

Congress passed the measure in 2017 to sanction any country engaging in significant transactions with Russia. Turkey installed the $2.5 billion Russian system in July 2019 and began testing it last October.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to buy more Russian defence systems in defiance of the US and the Nato alliance it is part of.

The US has also expelled Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet consortium.

“I see no arms sales going to Turkey unless there is a dramatic change around the S-400s,” Mr Menendez said.

Asked what his strategy would be to advance democratic values and human rights in Turkey, Mr Flake promised a candid approach.

“I will continue to practice speaking truth to power, speaking out and being frank as our current ambassador has done and the State Department and the president do,” he said.

If confirmed, Mr Flake would succeed career foreign service officer David Satterfield in the position.

Updated: September 29, 2021, 3:50 AM