Turkiye and the US “benefit from a close relationship,” said the new US ambassador in Ankara, hailing the bilateral ties between the two countries.
Turkiye is a “consequential” country and has “a big role on the global stage,” Jeff Flake told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
“It’s an important ally for us,” he stressed, further saying that the security between Ankara and Washington has “strengthened.”
Flake officially took over as the US ambassador in late January, succeeding David Satterfield, who had served as Washington’s envoy to Turkiye since June 2019.
With an emphasis on Turkiye’s position in NATO, he said it is “an important member of NATO, has been for 70 years. And so we have a lot of shared interests there.”
Turkiye has “the second largest F-16 fleet” and is “the third largest contributor in terms of NATO missions,” said Flake, who conveyed US Permanent Representative to NATO Julianne Smith’s thanks to Turkiye for its role in the alliance.
On the Russia-Ukraine tensions, the US ambassador said, “Turkey has been steadfast in its support of Ukrainian sovereignty” and Ankara “shares our commitment to a diplomatic solution if we can have one. They have supported that in a big way.”
Flake further said that “with threats like we have right now in the region in Ukraine, our relationship with Turkey is even more important.”
He also addressed the economic ties between Turkiye and the US, which he called “very important and increasingly important.”
“Our trade relationship with Turkey is large and growing. We have exchanges that are important. So there’s so many things that are vital and that we need to foster and improve on,” Flake said.
“People tend to look at Turkey is just important in the security realm, but it’s extremely important in the economic space as well,” the US ambassador said. “Last year we had about $28 billion in trade that was a 28% increase over the year before.”
He also said some $50 billion US investment in Turkiye has created about 100,000 jobs.
In 2021, Turkish exports to the US increased 45%, he said, hailing Turkiye for increasing its exports despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
With economic ties growing, Flake said, “we’ve set some ambitious goals, the last administration of $100 billion in trade. That is an ambitious goal, but when I meet with American businesses, and Turkish businesses, they want to get there. And over time, I believe we can.”
Drawing to education, Flake stated that Turkiye is “a biggest contributor of European students in the US, our 15th largest contributor of students worldwide, and that’s growing.”
Some 170 Turkish students are studying in the US with the Fulbright Scholar Program, he said, adding there are many other programs as well.
“We love it when Turkish citizens come to the United States and obviously Americans love to come here,” he said.
On the Rome meeting last fall of Turkish and US presidents, Flake said: “They established the strategic mechanism meant to encourage high-level dialogue on areas that we work together on or perhaps we don’t exactly agree on, but high-level dialogue.”
He also said “more high-level visits” are expected as the US is looking “to make to take full advantage of this strategic mechanism.”
Flake, who served in the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said: “We dealt with Turkey a lot. Because Turkey is a principal ally of ours, but also an important player on the world stage.”
Compensation for Turkiye’s payment for F-35s ‘very complicated process’
Flake said negotiations are on track regarding the sale and modernization of F-16 fighter jets.
“In fact, there was a delegation here just this past week as the delegation here in December as well to help prepare what’s called “LoR” or a request for additional F-16s and modernization of F-16,” he said.
Meanwhile, the US diplomat said compensation for Turkiye’s payment for F-35s is “a very complicated process.”
Lawyers and accountants are working on the issue, he added.
The US sees Turkiye’s request for new F-16s “very positive,” Flake said, as it shows Turkiye’s “commitment to NATO.”
“We obviously know that it’s extremely important to have interoperability. So that’s a positive request.”
About Turkiye’s role in Afghanistan, he said the US hopes Turkiye “will play a role in Afghanistan’s future and in terms of securing the airport, for example, to connect Afghanistan to the world that will benefit the citizens of Afghanistan and all of us.”
Flake also welcomed the normalization process between Turkiye and Armenia.
“That’s great as well. We welcome that. We’ve been very happy to see the meetings happening. One in Russia, another one in Vienna coming up. And we want to play whatever role we can play in the background to see that happen. But it is really encouraging, what is going on. I believe there are flights now going from Istanbul to Yerevan. That’s a great sign.”