The Trump administration needs to appoint an ambassador to Turkey who can help ease relations between the NATO ally and the United States, the general in charge of U.S. European Command and the alliance said Thursday.
The U.S.-Turkey relationship has been deeply strained over local Kurdish forces in syria, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said he is concerned about the vacancy in Ankara as well as at a number of other top diplomatic posts in European capitals.
“Particularly in country for instance, Turkey … we don’t have an ambassador now and we are in very sensitive discussions in order to continue to reinforce and strengthen our relationship with a key NATO ally. The ambassador’s position is key,” Scaparrotti said.
The U.S. has been supporting local Kurdish fighters in syria as part of its war against the Islamic State group, but Turkey has labeled the Kurds a terrorist group and has attacked the fighters along its southern border.
The Turkey offensive has drawn local fighters to the border area and caused a pause in U.S.-backed operations just as ISIS faces total military defeat. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have both tried to urge Turkey toward a solution allowing it to secure its border while not detracting from the U.S. mission.
“The [State Department] country teams, for instance, in the embassies have great staffs and we work very closely with them. But the ambassador is a key individual, appointed by the government, recognized by their government as the ambassador, and so we need to fill those in each one of these countries,” Scaparrotti said.
The lack of diplomats and proposed cuts to the State Department have rankled Democrats, who have hammered administration defense officials in recent hearings on Capitol Hill.
“The Trump administration’s failure to fill major diplomatic posts has damaged our diplomatic readiness and that makes our military’s job harder,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said.