Turkey has “legitimate” interests in the Middle East, the State Department’s top official for political affairs told lawmakers Thursday. 

Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, David Hale emphasized Turkey is a NATO ally while noting the country’s unique location as the nexus between Europe and the Middle East.

“Their geography means they do have legitimate interest in the Middle East, that can’t be ignored,” Hale said. “But it’s important they be channeled in ways that Turkey is supporting efforts to bring peace and stability, particularly through multilateral formats in places like Libya and in Syria, support of the political process there.”

Turning to Libya, Hale said Washington continues to support UN-led efforts to end the conflict and move toward a cease-fire between the internationally-recognized Tripoli-based government and renegade Khalifa Haftar.

“These efforts will be more effective now that the recently adopted UN mandate for the Libya mission includes our proposed language to create a UN Special Envoy position to focus exclusively on negotiations while leaving management of the UN mission in Libya to a special coordinator,” he said.

Libya has been torn by civil war since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Libya’s new government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to the military offensive by Haftar.

On Saudi Arabia, Hale said that while US relations with the Kingdom “is rooted in robust bilateral security cooperation,” Washington continues “to have frank conversations with Riyadh on human rights.”

Hale singled out discussions urging Saudi officials to lift a travel ban on a Saudi-American doctor and his family who have been prevented from leaving the country since 2017, and to release two dual US-Saudi nationals who have been imprisoned.

He said all three individuals “have been unjustly detained,” and their cases “undermine our otherwise strong partnership.”

“We fully support the nation’s reform initiatives, as articulated in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030,” he said. “But we have also consistently told the Saudi leadership that success will require protection of human and women’s rights.”

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