Saudi Arabia, Turkey have no US ambassadors amid crisis


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. Non-ambassadors 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.
“We cannot confirm nominees who have not been nominated,” he noted wryly, adding that some nominees had been or are currently being blocked by Republicans.
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.
Perhaps as a result of the sparring, the Senate late Thursday did vote to confirm several ambassadorial nominees, including those to Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Suriname and Somalia.

Saudi Arabia dismissed on Saturday accusations that Jamal Khashoggi was ordered murdered by a hit squad inside its Istanbul consulate as “lies and baseless allegations”, as Riyadh and Ankara spar over the missing journalist’s fate.

As the controversy intensified, the Washington Post reported Turkish officials had recordings made from inside the building that allegedly proved their claims Khashoggi was tortured and killed at the consulate.
A Saudi delegation arrived in Turkey for talks, officials said on Friday, with the case risking fragile relations between the two.
In the first Saudi ministerial reaction to the accusations about Khashoggi’s killing, Interior Minister Prince Abdel Aziz bin Saud bin Nayef said that “what has been circulating about orders to kill him are lies and baseless allegations”.
The Kingdom “is committed to its principles, rules and traditions and is in compliance with international laws and conventions”, he added according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
The case risks damaging the image of the kingdom and its ties to the West as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promotes a reform drive at home.
Big names from media and business have already cancelled appearances at a major conference in Riyadh this month.
Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Khashoggi vanished on October 2 after entering the consulate to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
Turkish government sources say police believe he was killed but Riyadh denies that.
Did he leave?
The Saudi delegation, whose composition was not immediately clear, is expected to meet with Turkish officials in Ankara at the weekend, state media said on Friday.
It is likely that they will take part in a joint working group on the case, whose creation was announced Thursday by Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin following a request by Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi official source quoted by SPA news agency said it was “a positive move” Turkey had agreed to the creation of what it described as a “joint action team” over Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The Turkish leadership has so far stopped short of accusing Saudi Arabia, although pro-government media have published sensational claims, including that an “assassination team” was sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi.
In a rare public comment on the case by a Saudi official, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al Saud, told the BBC that Riyadh was “concerned” about its citizen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has challenged Saudi Arabia to provide CCTV images to back up its account that Khashoggi left the consulate safely.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national living in the US since September 2017 fearing arrest, criticised some policies of Mohammed bin Salman and Riyadh’s intervention in the war in Yemen.
The Washington Post reported the Turkish government has told US officials it has audio and video recordings which show how Khashoggi was “interrogated, tortured and then murdered” inside the consulate before his body was dismembered.
Turkish officials contacted by AFP refused to comment on the veracity of the report.
‘Visual’ search only
Ankara and Riyadh have been on opposing sides in the region on key issues, including the ousting of the Islamist Egyptian government and last year’s Saudi-led blockade on Turkey’s regional ally Qatar. Yet as key Sunni Muslim powers they have maintained cordial relations.
But despite Riyadh’s agreement on Tuesday to let Turkish authorities search the Saudi mission, the probe has not yet taken place. The two sides have been in intense contacts to resolve the issue, local media reported.
Pro-government Turkish newspaper Sabah said the search of the consulate had not yet happened because Saudi officials would only allow a superficial “visual” probe.
The Turkish side did not accept the offer and Sabah said officials wanted to search the building with luminol, a chemical that allows forensic teams to discover blood traces.
Officers were looking into sound recordings sent from a smart watch that Khashoggi was wearing when he was inside the consulate to a mobile phone which he gave to his Turkish fiancee waiting outside, Hatice Cengiz.
Milliyet daily reported that “arguments and shouting” could be heard on the recordings, but Sozcu newspaper said only “some conversations” could be heard.
‘Chilling effect’
Bloomberg, the Financial Times, The Economist and The New York Times withdrew as media sponsors from the second Future Investment Initiative to be held between October 23-25 in Riyadh dubbed “Davos in the Desert” after the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort.
The CEO of ride-hailing app Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, said that he will no longer be attending the event unless “a substantially different set of facts emerges”.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson said he would suspend two directorships linked to tourism projects in Saudi Arabia over concerns about the missing journalist.
Amnesty International demanded the Saudi authorities reveal what happened to Khashoggi as it said Riyadh was “responsible at a minimum for enforced disappearance”.