Biden taps former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake to be US ambassador to Turkey amid growing tensions with Erdogan

Jeff Flake
  • President Joe Biden has nominated Jeff Flake to be US ambassador to Turkey.
  • The former GOP senator would assume the role amid historic tensions between the US and Turkey.
  • Turkey is a NATO ally, but Erdogan’s autocratic leadership style has strained US-Turkey relations.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona to be the US ambassador to Turkey.

If confirmed for the ambassadorship in the Senate, Flake would assume the role at a time when US-Turkey relations have hit a historic low. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian approach to leadership has strained the dynamic between Washington and Ankara in recent years.

Various foreign policy moves Erdogan has taken, such as targeting the US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria and purchasing the Russian S-400 missile defense system, have exacerbated the tensions.

Biden and Erdogan have also traded barbs from across the world and clashed on major issues on more than one occasion.

During the 2020 campaign season, the Turkish government expressed outrage after Biden referred to Erdogan as an “autocrat.” More recently, Erdogan in March excoriated Biden for referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer,” stating that it was “truly unacceptable, not something that can be stomached.” Biden’s formal recognition of the Armenian genocide in April also infuriated Erdogan, with Turkey warning that the move created a “deep wound” in relations.

That said, the US considers Turkey to be an important NATO ally, and the president and his Turkish counterpart played nice when they met face-to-face for the first time since Biden’s inauguration in Brussels last month. Biden said they had a “good” meeting.

Navigating this tense relationship as the top US diplomat in Ankara could prove to be a difficult task.

Flake, who retired from the Senate in 2019, is among the most high profile ambassador nominees put forward by Biden so far.

“Given the strategic importance of the United States’ relationship with our long-time NATO Ally, the Republic of Turkey, I am honored and humbled by the trust President Biden has placed in me with this ambassadorial nomination,” Flake said in a Medium post on Tuesday. “This is a pivotal post at an important time for both of our countries.”

“With this nomination, the Biden Administration reaffirms the best tradition of American foreign policy and diplomacy: the credo that partisan politics should stop at the water’s edge. U.S. foreign policy can and should be bipartisan,” Flake went on to say.

Flake broke from the GOP during the 2020 election cycle and endorsed Biden over then-President Donald Trump. The Arizona Republican was among Trump’s most vocal critics in the Senate. Flake continued to lambast Trump after leaving Congress, and in February condemned Senate Republicans who voted to acquit the former president during his second impeachment trial over the fatal January 6 insurrection.

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