Amid cri­sis, no U.S. am­bas­sadors in Saudi Ara­bia, Turkey

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION&WORLD - By Matthew Lee

WASHINGTON— The dis­ap­pear­ance of jour­nal­ist and U.S. res­i­dent Ja­mal Khashoggi af­ter vis­it­ing a Saudi con­sulate in Turkey has thrown the large num­ber of diplo­matic va­can­cies un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump into the spot­light — no­tably in Turkey and Saudi Ara­bia. It’s a gap the ad­min­is­tra­tion says it has been try­ing to fix but with lim­ited suc­cess.

The fact that there are no Amer­i­can am­bas­sadors in ei­ther Ankara or Riyadh has prompted con­cerns about dozens of un­filled se­nior State De­part­ment po­si­tions al­most two years into Trump’s pres­i­dency. Those con­cerns have sparked an in­creas­ingly bit­ter bat­tle with Congress over who is to blame.

Aside from Saudi Ara­bia and Turkey, Trump has yet to nom­i­nate can­di­dates for am­bas­sado­rial posts in 20 na­tions, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Egypt, Ire­land, Mex­ico, Pak­istan, South Africa, Sin­ga­pore and Swe­den. At the same time, 46 am­bas­sado­rial nom­i­nees are still await­ing Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion, prompt­ing an­gry com­plaints from the ad­min­is­tra­tion and push­back from Demo­cratic law­mak­ers.

A num­ber of am­bas­sador po­si­tions to in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions also re­main un­filled as do 13 se­nior po­si­tions at the State De­part­ment head­quar­ters, for which five have no nom­i­nee.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween hav­ing an am­bas­sador in coun­try or hav­ing only a charge d’af­faires run­ning an em­bassy is a mat­ter of de­gree but can be sub­stan­tial, ac­cord­ing to Ron­ald Neu­mann, the pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Academy of Diplo­macy. Non­am­bas­sadors can have trou­ble get­ting ac­cess to se­nior of­fi­cials and may not be viewed as the le­git­i­mate voice of the pres­i­dent or his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It’s a lot harder when you’re not the pres­i­den­tial ap­pointee and you don’t have Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion,” he said. “An am­bas­sador is the per­sonal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pres­i­dent.”

In ad­di­tion to prob­lems with ac­cess, some coun­tries may re­sent not hav­ing an am­bas­sador posted to their cap­i­tal, Neu­mann said.“Coun­tries may get grouchy with­out an am­bas­sador.”

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