Never-Trumper Jeff Flake reversed his position on the Armenian issue on Tuesday, replying with a resounding “yes” to US Senator Bob Menendez before the foreign relations committee that holds the key to advancing his nomination to be ambassador to Turkey.
In July American President Joe Biden nominated former Republican senator Jeff Flake to become the next US ambassador to Turkey, a surprise choice as the decision promoted a political appointee rather than a career diplomat.
Flake had parted ways with fellow Republicans and campaigned for Biden after expressing views against former president Donald Trump.
The senator from Arizona, who was also known for voting against resolutions on the Armenian issue, recognized on Tuesday that atrocities perpetrated against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire amounted to genocide.
Flake also praised Washington’s consideration of UN statements on Cyprus, citing recent comments by US officials regarding Varosha as well as affirming the American position against acts that violate Security Council resolutions.
Menendez, a fierce critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and longtime champion of Hellenic causes who chairs the senate foreign relations committee, pressed Flake on previously stated positions.
“In the past you voted against resolutions which recognize the genocide. Will you join this body and the administration in reaffirming the Armenian genocide?” Menendez asked.
“Yes,” said Flake.
“If confirmed, will you reiterate that commitment on April 24th, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day?” the senator pressed on.
“I will,” Flake responded.
In April, Biden kept a campaign promise when he said massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a move vehemently denounced by Turkey amid frayed ties between the two NATO allies.
On the Cyprus issue, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen sought clear statements from Flake.
“In Cyprus, President Erdogan is going backwards,” Van Hollen told Flake, saying Turkey had retreated from “what had been the agreed-upon approach.”
Van Hollen then asked Flake to state on the record whether he agreed that Erdogan’s actions in Varosha “violated UN Security Council resolutions.”
“Yes, most definitely,” Flake said, adding later on “there is no two-state solution in Cyprus.”
But Menendez also picked apart Flake’s opening statement, telling the ambassadorial candidate that he could see no arms sales to Turkey.
“I must say, I listened to your statement, it is certainly more positive that I would have posited, as it relates to Turkey. I guess that’s the role of a potential ambassador,” Menendez pointed out.
Flake said if confirmed he would “consistently reiterate that disposing of the system is the path to removing CATSAA sanctions” on Turkey, adding he would warn Ankara that any future purchase of Russian weapons would risk triggering further sanctions.
But Flake also said the States should look to encourage Turkey to purchase American defense items “that keep the Turkish military interoperable with NATO.”
“If confirmed, I look forward to working with the Committee to determine what defense trade with Turkey is in the US national interest,” Flake said.
“Certainly, when we talk about arms sales again, as the committee that has jurisdiction over arms sales, I see no arms sales going to Turkey unless there is a dramatic change on the S400 and moving forward,” the committee chairman added, pointing to recent statements by Erdogan who spoke about plans to buy a second batch of the Russian systems.
Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, was behind a handful of attempts until last December when the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes as genocide the mass killings of Armenians a century ago.
The senator from New Jersey, who was bestowed the Cross of the Order of Makarios III during a visit to Cyprus this summer, was also the main architect of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act.
Menendez has said Erdogan’s support for a two-state solution in Cyprus “would be in violation of the UN resolutions.”