Republican Jeff Flake confirmed as Biden’s ambassador to Turkey

Former Republican senator easily won bipartisan approval to serve as president’s envoy to Ankara

Jeff Flake walks with his wife Cheryl Flake, on Capitol Hill in Washington. EPA
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The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Jeff Flake, a former Republican senator, as the US ambassador to Turkey.

President Joe Biden nominated Mr Flake to the post in July. Unlike several of the president’s other State Department nominees, Mr Flake encountered little resistance in the Senate.

His confirmation vote proved to be an easy matter, with the Senate installing him as the new US envoy in Ankara with a simple voice vote.

The Arizona Republican retired from the Senate in 2019, noting that he was out of step with his party amid frequent clashes with former president Donald Trump.

The Senate also confirmed Cindy Hensley McCain, an Arizona businesswoman and widow of the late John McCain, as US representative to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

Both Ms McCain and Mr Flake endorsed Mr Biden for president in 2020.

Although Mr Flake will become the first political appointee to serve as the US ambassador to Turkey in 40 years, he did serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The committee advanced his nomination last week by voice votes along with dozens of other State Department nominees. The list included Morgan Stanley vice chairman Thomas Nides, Mr Biden’s pick to serve as ambassador to Israel.

However, the committee did not advance the nomination of Barbara Leaf — the former US ambassador to the UAE — to serve as the State Department’s top Middle East diplomat as originally scheduled, due to a last-minute hold on the nomination by Republican Ted Cruz.

Mr Flake will replace David Satterfield, a career diplomat who has served as the US ambassador to Turkey since 2019.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to expel Mr Satterfield and nine other western ambassadors after they issued a joint statement calling for the release of Osman Kavala, a jailed businessman who had supported Turkish civil society groups.

But Mr Erdogan reversed course this week, stating that he believes the ambassadors “will now be more careful in their statements".

Mr Erdogan is expected to meet Mr Biden this weekend on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome.

He is pushing the US to sell Turkey F-16 fighter jets, which he says will serve as compensation for Ankara’s $1.4 billion loss when Washington expelled it from the F-35 co-production programme over its purchase of Russian S-400 missiles.

The US, which last year sanctioned Turkey’s military procurement agency for the S-400 purchase under a Russia sanctions law, has yet to commit to any such sale.

But a State Department representative told The National last week that “Turkey’s continued Nato interoperability remains a priority".

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate last month, Mr Flake said that any Turkish purchase of Russian weapons systems could result in additional US sanctions.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to recognising the Ottoman-era killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians as a genocide.

Mr Biden became the first sitting US president to formally recognise the Armenian genocide in April.

Updated: October 26, 2021, 9:26 PM