No U.S. en­voys in Saudi Ara­bia, Turkey in cri­sis

The Detroit News - - Trump Administration - BY MATTHEW LEE Associated Press

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.

Khashoggi’s case and the fact that there are no Amer­i­can am­bas­sadors in ei­ther Ankara or Riyadh have prompted con­cerns about dozens of un­filled se­nior State De­part­ment po­si­tions al­most two years into Trump’s pres­i­dency.

And, 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.

It’s un­clear if high-pro­file is­sues like Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance suf­fer from ne­glect in the ab­sence of an am­bas­sador. In­deed, Turkey freed Amer­i­can pas­tor Andrew Brun­son on Fri­day af­ter re­peated com­plaints and sanc­tions from Washington. But the man­age­ment of day-to-day diplo­matic re­la­tions can lan­guish with­out a per­sonal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pres­i­dent present.

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. A charge is the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the State De­part­ment.”

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 and that may af­fect re­la­tions,” he said. “With­out an am­bas­sador, there is a greater chance of mis­un­der­stand­ing and greater chance you aren’t able to per­suade them to do some­thing we want.”

“There are real, di­rect im­pacts of not hav­ing these peo­ple con­firmed,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said ear­lier this month, mak­ing the case for the Se­nate to act quickly. Those re­marks set off a war of words with Sen. Robert Me­nen­dez, D-N.J., the rank­ing mem­ber of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, who was sin­gled out by Pom­peo for blame.

“I want ev­ery sin­gle Amer­i­can to know that what Sen. Me­nen­dez and mem­bers of the Se­nate are do­ing to hold back Amer­i­can diplo­macy rests squarely on their shoul­ders,” Pom­peo said. He later main­tained that Se­nate Democrats are block­ing more than a dozen nom­i­nees “be­cause of pol­i­tics” and are “putting our na­tion at risk.”

Me­nen­dez fired back, ac­cus­ing Pom­peo of politi­ciz­ing the process and blam­ing con­fir­ma­tion de­lays on the un­suit­abil­ity of can­di­dates for cer­tain posts and the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship for not call­ing votes on the oth­ers. He also slammed the ad­min­is­tra­tion for fail­ing to nom­i­nate can­di­dates for crit­i­cal posts.

Two cases in point: The nom­i­nee for the top U.S. diplo­mat for Asia, a ca­reer for­eign ser­vice of­fi­cer, was forced to with­draw ear­lier this year af­ter Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., said he would do ev­ery­thing in his power to stop the nom­i­na­tion. The ca­reer diplo­mat nom­i­nated to be am­bas­sador to Colom­bia is be­ing blocked by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

Pom­peo re­sponded by again blam­ing Me­nen­dez for hold­ing up more than 60 nom­i­nees and us­ing them as a “po­lit­i­cal foot­ball.” “We need our team on the field to con­duct Amer­ica’s for­eign pol­icy,” he said.

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