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International relations

Biden taps GOP former Sen. Jeff Flake for Turkey ambassador

Envoy to manage important but contentious relations with NATO ally

Former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks with reporters ahead of the weekly policy luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington in May, 2019.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Republican former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey, tapping a political appointee for a critical post as ties between the two NATO allies remains strained.

"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 statement.

"This is a pivotal post at an important time for both of our countries," he said.

Flake served as a U.S. senator from Arizona from 2013 to 2019 and was a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump.

Relations between Washington and Ankara have soured over the past few years over a host of issues, including Ankara's purchase of Russian weaponry and policy differences in Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

As president, Biden has adopted a cooler tone than Trump toward Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Biden quickly recognized the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide - a position that angers Turkey - and stepped up criticism of Turkey's human rights record.

But the two leaders sounded upbeat last month in Brussels about the future of bilateral ties following their first in-person meeting since Biden took office on Jan. 20, although no concrete breakthrough was announced.

One potential area of cooperation has been Afghanistan, where Ankara has offered to guard and operate Kabul's airport after U.S. and NATO forces withdraw. Turkey has been in talks with the United States on financial, political and logistical support.

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