Remarks by Ambassador Jeffry L. Flake

Ambassador Flake: This year’s Fulbright Conference, “Continuities and Changes in Türkiye – U.S. Relations” is an opportunity to reflect upon, and appreciate, all our two countries have done together.  In 1927, the United States opened its first Embassy in Ankara.  In the near-century that has passed, the United States and Türkiye have accomplished much together, including forging ever-closer economic ties, strengthening our partnership for mutual security, and expanding the people-to-people connections that bind us together.

As Türkiye celebrates its centennial, it remains a crucial partner of the United States and an important global actor.   Whether it’s contributing to critical NATO missions or burning the midnight diplomatic oil to ensure global food security, Türkiye matters. In the region, and globally.

Türkiye’s support for Ukrainian sovereignty is a clear example of its global role.  No other country could have contained the conflict by invoking the Montreux Convention, nor could any other country have successfully facilitated the Black Sea Grain Initiative to deliver much needed food to global markets.

The story of the United States – Türkiye relationship is indeed one of continuity and change.  The United States and Türkiye have been NATO allies for over 70 years.  Türkiye is a pillar of the NATO Alliance’s military capabilities.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States moved swiftly, decisively, and in unison with allies and partners to do exactly what we said we’d do: support Ukraine, impose costs on Russia, strengthen NATO – all of this with our allies and partners.  We appreciate Türkiye’s steadfast support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and expect to continue working together on these shared goals.

Our trade and commercial relations are critical to the growth of both our countries.  U.S.-Türkiye trade grew from 28 billion dollars in 2021 to 34 billion dollars in 2022, an increase of 22 percent, representing an all-time high.  We’ve seen a rapid increase in Turkish investment into the United States, with the largest Turkish delegation ever, over 33 companies, to our flagship SelectUSA investment conference in Washington, D.C.  And U.S. firms have invested over $50 billion in Türkiye, creating over 100,000 jobs.

Consider our people-to-people ties: More than one million Americans visited Türkiye in 2022, and over 700,000 have already this year, this represents the depth of American appreciation for Turkish heritage and culture.  In January 2021, we signed a landmark Bilateral Cultural Property Agreement which has enhanced our cooperation on cultural heritage protection. Since then, through the combined efforts of U.S. federal and local officials and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, we’ve been able to repatriate to Türkiye two troves of cultural artifacts.

Student exchanges and cooperation between U.S. and Turkish educational institutions boost both countries – supporting not just a more educated and capable workforce, but lasting human connections and a shared vision for the future.  The number of Turkish students in the United States grew by a record 4.4% last academic year.

When the devastating earthquakes hit Türkiye in February, support flowed in from communities across America and the world, in addition to the formal efforts by the United States and other governments.  Two American search and rescue teams flew to the southeast immediately, and we are continuing to work together on other initiatives to save and rebuild lives and economies in the region.  It has been gratifying to see our communities strengthen one another in the face of incredible hardship.

And as I am sure all of you know, next year, together, we’ll celebrate another milestone anniversary: 75 years of our bilateral Fulbright program.  For nearly three quarters of a century, Fulbright Türkiye has facilitated the exchange of Turkish and American graduate students, faculty members, teachers, artists and professionals like you, enriching campuses and communities in both our countries.

While we have good reason to take pride in what our two countries have accomplished in nearly 100 years, I hope that you also use this gathering to take time to consider the potential for the bilateral relationship.  Looking ahead, there are many opportunities for deepening our friendship and relationship. Here are a few key points to consider:

The U.S. government is committed to promoting high level engagement between the U.S. and Türkiye through the Strategic Mechanism framework.  Through this framework, we will need to discuss everything – both opportunities and challenges.  Our fundamental disagreements on Syria policy are a challenge, but there are also opportunities there to find ways to address counterterrorism threats that we both care deeply about.

Looking to opportunities, we want to pursue more areas for U.S.-Türkiye cooperation in Africa.  From counterterrorism to commercial opportunities, there are areas for increased cooperation where our two countries can work together.

Even outside of the Strategic Mechanism, the United States and Türkiye continue to focus on mutual goals. As recently as this week, during Secretary Blinken’s visit to Ankara on November 6, he and the Turkish Foreign Minister were in consensus on the need to expand humanitarian assistance to people in Gaza, and the pursuit of a two-state solution for a durable, sustainable, lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

The time has come for the United States and Türkiye to reengage in a formal trade dialogue and figure out how to remove the last few trade barriers that are negatively affecting both countries.  Both sides recognize we are overdue for a detailed bilateral discussion on trade, the last one happened in 2017.  There are several trade policies and irritants on both sides.  Addressing some of them could help us further accelerate bilateral trade.

Finalization of Sweden’s Accession to NATO remains a top priority.  During this critical time in European security with Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, NATO solidarity is critical, and we want Sweden to be part of the Alliance as soon as possible.

Finally, we are committed to doing what we can to expand and strengthen our people-to-people ties. Support for bilateral exchange initiatives such as Fulbright is fundamental to building a strong foundation for the overall bilateral relationship.

As I said, Türkiye matters to the United States.  I’m optimistic for the next century of partnership between our two nations.  Türkiye has become a global power: through trade and business; diplomatically – it has one of the broadest diplomatic presences around the world; defense capabilities; humanitarian and development aid; and soft power.

We must work together to address the challenges of our current moment and be ready to stand together as Allies against future challenges in the region and globally.